Your child starting school is an exciting milestone in their life, but when exactly does this journey begin? In the United Kingdom, education is a fundamental right, which means each school must meet specific legal obligations.
The age in which children start school in the UK depends on where they live, with each of the four nations having a few minor differences and options available for parents.
What age do children start school in the UK?
In the UK, children are typically entitled to start school in the September following their fourth birthday. This is known as the Reception year, and it is the earliest year that a child can start primary school in the UK. The eldest children in the year group will turn five at the start of Reception.
However, children aren’t legally obligated to start school until they are of Compulsory School Age in the UK, which is a set point in the year following their fifth birthday. For example:
- Children who turn five between 1st September and 31st December reach Compulsory School Age on 31st December.
- Children who turn five between 1st January and 31st March reach Compulsory School Age on 31st March.
- Children who turn five between 1st April and 31st August reach Compulsory School Age on 31st August.
If a child is born in the summer between 1st April and 31st August, they do not have to start school until a full year after they could have been admitted.
This is a general rule of thumb across the UK, with the only exception being that children in Scotland are entitled to start school in the August following their fourth birthday.
How do I apply for a school place?
If your child is going to attend a state school, then you must apply through your local council/authority. Even if your child attends a nursery on a school site, they will not be guaranteed a place at that school and a separate application will need to be made.
The application window opens on different days across various council areas in the UK, so it’s important to keep an eye on your local authority’s website at the start of the Autumn term the year before your child starts school. Applications typically close on 15th January each year.
If you want to send your child to a private school, it’s important to remember that the application process differs depending on the chosen school. Rather than contacting your local authority, you will need to contact the school directly. Some private schools require children to complete an age-appropriate assessment during the application process.
Can I defer my child’s admission?
If your child is born between 1st April and 31st August, you have the right to request they defer their admission into school until later in the academic year. There can be various reasons for this, such as delayed social, emotional or physical development, which will affect their readiness for school.
In some instances, you can also delay your child’s admission into school by a full academic year, though this should be heavily considered beforehand. If you request this, the school has the right to decide whether the child can start Reception a year later, or if they will go into Year 1 with their age group.
If you request your child start school a year late, you will still need to apply for a regular school place in September after their fourth birthday. Information should also be submitted that supports the request, such as a statement or medical records with reports from relevant healthcare professionals.
Your request will then be taken into account by the local authority or schools governing body, who will consider the child’s individual needs and abilities. The admission authority will then let you know if your request has been granted before primary school National Offer Day, which usually takes place mid-April.
If the request to defer a year is granted, you must withdraw your child’s primary school application and re-apply the following year. If the request is denied, you can continue the application and start at the normal year, or refuse the place, skip reception and apply to start Year 1 the following year.
Can I send my child to school part-time?
Some schools across the UK offer a staggered entry for new Reception starters, where children attend part-time to get used to the new environment. However, this option is only available if the child is not at Compulsory School Age, where they will then have to attend school full-time.
What is early years education?
The years prior to mandatory education are known as pre-school, nursery, early-years education of the early years’ foundation stage (EYFS) across the UK. Your child will then move out of this stage when they are old enough to move into Key Stage 1.
Following their third birthday, all children across the UK are entitled to 15 hours of funded early-years education per week. These places are available at any setting registered to receive the Nursery Education Grant, and include pre-schools, day nurseries and child minders, which are all regularly inspected by Ofsted.
It is not compulsory for your child to receive early-years education, but it can help prepare them for school at the primary school level and give them a chance to gain social skills and new experiences that they wouldn’t necessarily get in a home environment.
It is possible for your child to receive early-years education below the age of three, but you will usually have to pay a fee. However, if you are a lower income household, your child may be entitled to 15 hours of funded early-years education per week following their second birthday, depending on family income/benefits.
At Compass, we understand that your child starting school can be a worrying time, which is why we provide all of our foster carers with a variety of different support and benefits. If you’re interested in learning more, get in touch today to receive your free brochure.