It almost feels like a guilty admission, my children are summer-born. Yes both of them, yes they’ll be young in the year, no I’m not overly worried… Well I am, but I try not to be.
We, as a nation, are at an extreme when it comes to the age we send our children to school. That probably means that being at the “wrong” end of the school year (summer, especially August, in England) has a greater effect than in other counties, where children spend longer at home or in an informal learning environment. It feels like it’s become a bit of an obsession in England, but maybe I’m hyper-sensitive to it.
Here are some thoughts on what lies ahead for Girlbug, who will be entering her first year of school in September, aged just four years and a few weeks. (P.s. I know I could now defer her application, but for her I don’t feel it is necessary).
Please don’t ask if I planned to have a summer-baby
I didn’t plan, or not plan, to have a summer baby. I planned to have a baby. I wanted a baby, not a school-aged child, and so gave little consideration to whether their birth month would affect their academic trajectory. Some people do avoid summer months, and they are free to do that. But don’t assume my values are the same.
Please don’t mention how young Girlbug will be in front of Girlbug
She may be one of the youngest in her year, but she is pretty astute. I’m already having to field questions about why some people at preschool are four, and why she will never be four at preschool: “but I need some time being four at preschool, mummy!” Personally, I think she’ll be fine in school, so it would be helpful if everyone else could stop highlighting that she is at a slight disadvantage.
Please don’t judge me if I don’t spend every waking moment trying to get Girlbug to “catch up”
She has a mere four years and a few weeks before school, I really don’t want to fill those days “educating” her. If she has an interest, we’ll follow it, but it’s on her terms. By school age there appears to be a general expectation that children can write their own name. Girlbug cant do this yet, for several reasons.
- First and foremost she has no interest in doing so. When asked to write a letter to Elsa, she wrote Elsa, Anna and Olaf. She will not write her name.
- The words she does write are big and shaky. She doesn’t like colouring and drawing, she likes role play, bike riding and singing. Her fine motor skills are not there yet, she’s working on other things.
- She will also be one of the youngest (did I mention that?) when she starts school, so has less time to perfect her name writing.
- Finally, her name has seven letters. Five of which are unique, one is a capital of another letter also present, only one is a true duplicate. Really I should have considered her birth month when choosing her name I guess, and gone with Mia. (I have nothing against this name, it just looks easy to write).
Please don’t mention that summer-borns are less likely to be successful
There are several problems with that theory, and you highlighting it to me.
First the theory (disclaimer, the majority of this is based on this 2010 government report. Obviously this is old data, and the don’t fully explain their methodology. Hopefully there have been improvements, but it shows the general trends).
- Early in their school career, the data for England shows that children born in the summer months are at a disadvantage. This is what you’d expect. They have less time to perfect their skills, both social and educational. Simple things, like not having the same attention span as older children, can have major effects on attainment.
- At 11, the gap is smaller, though still present. Where we live there is the grammar system to contend with. Our local 11+ scheme allows for birth month, with grades for those youngest in the year given a little boost (obviously I have no idea whether this’ll be a consideration for us yet!).
- By the time a child reaches 16, the gap has tightened, and in the 2010 report, whether you are a girl or a boy made more difference than what month you were born in. Looking at getting 5 A*-C grades at GCSE in those not getting free school meals, 56% of girls who were born in the summer term got the marks, compared to 60% of their Autumn-born counterparts. But, only 54% of autumn-born boys achieved this. Now I’m not suggesting we all avoid having boys…but let’s get a bit of perspective. (I appreciate the gender gap is reducing, but haven’t found anything more recent comparing it to month of birth)
- In those getting school meals, only 32% of Autumn-born girls made the grades, dropping to 27% in the summer babies. Worryingly only 26% of Autumn-born boys and 22% of summer born boys got their 5 A*-C. This is shocking.
- By 18 the season gap has tightened further, and is non-existent at univeristy level, with summer-born children slightly more likely to finish their degrees!
- There are other factors at play too, complex social and behavioural factors that it’s not possible to control for. A recent study found that smoking tobacco or cannabis use at 15 had a negative effect on GCSE grades even when controlling for family occupational class, income, maternal education and previous grades. The effects were much greater than the month a child is born in. Other things, like parental support, personality, role models, the type of school, friendship groups, will all play their part.
- Importantly, you’ll notice none of those statistics measured success. At three and a bit I have no idea what Girlbug will want to do with her life. If she gets amazing grades, great. If they help her to do what she wants to do, even better. But maybe she’ll want to do something where top grades aren’t so important, and middling grades and a more balanced lifestyle would be a better fit. Or maybe, for whatever reason, she won’t go on to further education, or won’t get those middling grades. Also fine, as long as she is happy and reaching her potential then I consider that a success.
- And finally, right the way through school, summer born children are statistically better behaved. So, while we might not be the brightest crayons we are the nicest hues!!
And now the problem with you highlighting it to me. IT’S RUDE.
- Firstly, by saying these things, you also make a judgement on me. As a mother who brought into the world a summer baby. Yes, Girlbug may struggle to begin with, and yes, she’s at a slight disadvantage, but she will have my full support and that counts for everything.
- Secondly, did I mention I was a summer born? My birthday is two weeks before Girlbug’s in the calendar, a month after Boybug’s. Now, despite being a summer-born, I know how statistics work. Yes, we summer-borns, on average, get lower grades and are less good at sport. But not always. My grades were ample, university was academic to the point of a bit dull, work was academic too. I also trained with the England squad, though admittedly it in a minority sport. Maybe that’s the key to a summer-born’s sporting success – choose minority sports. Either way, my point is, Girlbug is not a lost cause and nor am I. Please don’t write us off. There is hope yet.
Sorry, that was a rant!
But in conclusion, all kids are individuals, and at three and four are full of potential. You, and they, can only do the best with what you’ve got. If you have a summer-born, they may be the youngest in the year, but garden parties are cheaper than hiring a hall, and you won’t have to invite the whole class if its in the summer holidays, so it’s not all bad. My teacher friends assure me parental support is key, and that’s all I can do really. I have a suspicion that boys, and life in general, will prove a bigger hurdle than her August birthday.
Education is not a banned subject. When Girlbug is out of earshot, you may express concern that she’s going to be so young, or tell me that it’s a shame she has to go to school so soon. Just drop the patronising stuff.
I’d love to hear about your experiences, summer-born, Autumn-born or otherwise! And teachers, this is not my specialist subject, my last experience was when I was at school. Enlighten me, please! Is there newer data out there somewhere? Send it to me! Or just give me your personal experiences!