Parent's View, Parents Experiences of Deferral, Right to defer in Scotland

Sliding Doors

I loved that film with Gwyneth Paltrow in the late nineties. The concept was great: how what happens in just a few seconds can change a life. Our paths rarely hinge on such occurrences yet every one of us can no doubt identify a few such instances or decisions which have altered our life’s course.

In my son’s case, it wasn’t a window of a few seconds that made the difference but one of two weeks: his early September birthday meant we only qualified to have the legal right to defer him by a mere fourteen days, which, when compared to the entire 6.5 month window to choose p1 deferral for your child in Scotland* feels like a hair’s breadth and yet we believe it will have seismic positive consequences for him.

He’s currently in his deferred year at nursery and after the anxiety – and quite frankly humiliation – of having to apply to the council for continued funding by listing his “deficits” and having our decision scrutinised by professionals who had never met him, his further year at the same council nursery is being funded at the local authority’s expense.

Like most parents, we wanted the continuity of care to be provided at the same nursery setting during his deferral year as he is very settled there. However, if our council had refused to fund it, we’re lucky that we would have been able to finance it at a private nursery ourselves. The unfairness that that is only a true choice if you can afford it burns inside me though as I’ve seen first hand the positive impact deferral can have as we deferred our eldest and know this is right for our third child as well.

Our son is almost halfway through his deferral year now and every single day I am grateful for this time. He is already more confident, independent and is moving towards being academically ready for school as well as developing the attitudes and dispositions which will enable him to flourish there. Some examples include now being less stubborn, being more flexible/open to change, eating a wider variety of foods and having improved language and comprehension skills.

The nursery nativity play last month was a joy to watch as he sang, danced and waved comfortably to me from the stage while happily staying where he was. This is huge progress compared to the previous year’s show where he cowered in the key worker’s lap completely overwhelmed by the scenario.

There are still bad days but as time passes I am conscious that there are fewer of them. He recently point blank refused to wear shoes to nursery – can you imagine if I’d had to carry him to the line at school and pass him to a teacher to deal with along with the 24 other kids in the class? I tighten inside at the thought of it. We’ve also started having conversations about school now when it wasn’t even on his radar a few months ago. Positive conversations about looking forward to it, wearing a uniform, going to the out-of-school club with his brothers etc. I can actually visualise him doing all these things excitedly now rather than having them foisted upon him against his will and before he was ready.

I know exactly what missing the deferral train would have meant for my child: tears, resistance, tantrums, confusion, lashing out, meetings with the school about various concerns and loss of my son’s happy and carefree personality. Lack of academic progress would have been the least of my worries although I know that that would have been a consequence too – there’s no way he was ready for phonics or doing homework last August and I feel well-placed to comment on this as our middle child recently completed p1 so I know what’s expected.

Not every parent’s decision to defer will have been as clear cut as ours in terms of how sure we were that our son was not ready, but I believe that parents know what’s best for their child when it comes to when they are best placed to #thrivenotcope in school.

I’m so glad our son caught that train.


*All children whose fifth birthday falls after the school commencement date in August and the last day in February have a legal right to defer their primary one start till the following August in Scotland. This is legislated for in section 32, sub-section 3 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.