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

First Week of Not School

by Eilidh Campbell

A few people have asked me this last week about school deferral- first week back and all. It’s amazing when you start to openly talk about deferring a child the amount of people that say ‘oh we did that with ours!’ I cannot tell you how many sleepless nights I spent over the last year debating this, questioning my gut and getting myself riled up and clued up for a fight that in the end we didn’t need to have.

I think I had an inclining fairly early on that deferral might be for us. I remember tentatively mentioning it at a friend’s house in front of a group of other mum pals who looked at me like I was a little bonkers- ‘I don’t think I could do that. He’ll be so much older? But why- he seems fine?’ … I want to try to explain- not because I feel the need to justify our choice or because I particularly want to share our not very exciting story but because I wasn’t aware of our rights when it came to deferral- as a parent or as a teacher- and I think it should be talked about more. 

For me deferral is not black and white so I’m not here promoting it. For many reasons it’s not the right option for some children and it certainly isn’t an option for every family (we probably won’t defer child 2 for her (and our) own reasons despite having a very late January birthday). It’s also just not everyone’s cup of tea and that’s cool too. When you have a baby, you assume they’ll start school at a certain time, talk about it with the other mums you meet at baby groups and laugh about them all being in the same class together. You might have other children and deferring can mean there’s less or more of a gap which can change the dynamics. There are financial implications- potentially another year not being able to fully return to work- to your own career, extra childcare you hadn’t accounted for, not to mention signing yourself up to another year of the pre-school era … and we all know how ‘magical’ that can be. While it’s easy to say you should do solely what’s best for the child all these factors come into play and rightly so. They certainly do for us. 

Most people are of the understanding that in Scotland you can automatically defer a child who has a January or February birthday. This is correct. Now as we were dealing with an early October birthday and a child with no additional needs or issues (just a few reservations and a mum with a strong inclining and a bee in her bonnet) I was prepared to be in for a bit of a rough ride. As a teacher I spoke to colleagues who agreed that getting the go ahead for an October deferral in our case would be unlikely. This is when the late-night scrolling took over. I was determined to ‘build our case’ before I hit the school (who have been very supportive) with what we wanted to do. I became frustrated with the lack of useful information out there but came across a Facebook group called ‘Deferral Support Scotland’ and a campaign called ‘Give Them Time’. I’d urge anyone who is considering this as an option to check both of these out. Here I discovered a wealth of information, experience and advice that wasn’t obvious anywhere else- a whole other world of people who thought the same way as me. It was an eye opener! I was completely unaware that in Scotland it is your legal right to defer a child’s entry to school if they are still 4 years old when the new term starts (August). The common myth that this is only for January/ February babies is funding based and nothing more. Funding must be applied for and in some circumstances and more specifically some areas, this is not always and is rarely a given. Unfortunately, like lots of things this appears to be a postcode lottery. However … the good news is that there is legislation in place stating by 2023 funding will be available to all children in Scotland whose 5th birthdays fall after the start of term who wish to defer school entry. Luckily for us (and I realise how lucky we are) Argyll and Bute Council are part of a pilot scheme for this this year and when it came down to it all I had to do was tick a box. The relief was real and maybe my mind is still fired up for the battle I didn’t need to have.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this over the last year and I finally know how to respond to those raised eyebrows from the early days. For me it’s not so much about the immediate future though I’m relieved to be able to give an extra year of play. To explore, to puddle jump, to be flexible, to ask questions and avoid a timetable for a little longer. To grow in confidence. An extra year of time. And for those who think it will only be the wee ones left? What a time to develop leadership skills, foster understanding and compassion and to finally get to be the big one! Sometimes I feel like a ‘bad teacher’ thinking like this- I know how tirelessly teachers and school staff work to create the right learning environments for all their children and I’ll forever be the biggest cheerleader for that but I’ve never come across a family who regrets deferring. In the long term … to be another year older and more mature before sitting exams, before travelling the world, going for the job interview, apprenticeship or moving into student halls. I can’t see any negatives. Worst case scenario? My little farmer will be driving that Toyota Hilux to high school!

Was it an easy decision? Absolutely not. Did I have last minute wobbles? Yes. Did I have a wee cry last Monday seeing everyone else’s first day photos? Yes. Did I question whether or not to share this? Yes- absolutely. But the moment I realised it was me having a wee emotional moment in the pre-school car park and that my boy had trotted down the path none the wiser I knew it was 100% the right decision for us this time around.People need to talk more and lines of communication need to open up. I know I’m a good mum and I’m a good teacher. I’m certainly not the only one unaware of the correct facts around deferral but I feel strongly that somewhere this information isn’t filtering down to the staffrooms or indeed to the parents at the school gates. It’s not about being pro-deferral for me. It’s about knowing the options available for your own family. And that little bee in your bonnet? If it is buzzing and you can hear it then it’s probably buzzing for a reason.

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

Nursery Funding Campaign Success but Supporters not Happy

I’ve spent the last two and a half years campaigning for a change in legislation which will be made law in the next two months. I should be ecstatic but I’m not. 

The Scottish Government’s Dec 7th2020 announcement will see all children who share the same legal right to defer their primary one start in Scotland – any child who hasn’t reached the age of five by the school commencement date in August – soon have the same automatic entitlement to a further year of funded early learning and childcare (ELC). This was the key aim of our Give Them Time campaign but it won’t be available to all before August 2023 and therein lies the rub. 

Every day through the Deferral Support Scotland Facebook group we help concerned parents of mid-August to 31 Dec borns (the cohort currently at the mercy of their local authority for this continued funding) who find themselves disempowered from making a decision in the best interests of their child due to the process of applying for this funding in their local authority area. 

For academic year 2020-2021, our research showed there were 1635 applications for this funding across all council areas in Scotland of which 84 were refused. Twenty out of thirty-two local authorities funded 100% of these requests with Stirling Council funding the fewest – only 42%.

Parents are worried about how to write a winning funding application (it feels like a competition for a quota of spaces and the criteria are so subjective and varied by council area that it’s hard to know how best to convince the hidden decision makers – usually they have never met the child). Parents are put in the position of listing their child’s deficits in order to argue their case for deferral ELC funding whilst also knowing that refused funding could lead to their child being turfed out of their current council nursery (12 councils don’t permit parents to self-fund in a council nursery if the council refuses to provide this – see table in point 5). 

Parents in our recent survey described their experiences of applying to their local authority for this funding as, “horrendous”, “stressful”, “difficult”, “distressing”, “worrying”,  “bureaucratic” and that they felt their views on their own child were often “dismissed”.

The five councils which will participate in an automatic funding pilot scheme from 2021-2022 are: Angus, Argyll & Bute, Falkirk, Scottish Borders and Shetland Islands. We are delighted that parents in these authorities can breathe a sigh of relief knowing with certainty that their child’s continued nursery place is guaranteed next year – particularly in light of the current closure of all ELC settings during this second national lockdown in less than a year. However, serious questions need to be asked about the selection of these areas. Firstly, Falkirk adopted a policy of automatically funding such requests of its own accord in 2018 so isn’t it disingenuous to consider it part of a pilot? Also, responses from all 32 councils to our Freedom of Information requests show that these five areas have each had a 100% rate of granting all requests in the last two years. Wouldn’t it have been better to learn from the challenges that arose in council areas where a lower percentage of requests are usually approved? And perhaps a city to show the obstacles faced there?

Don’t get me wrong, the 2023 law change and interim pilot are very, very welcome but sadly they won’t help the majority of families going through the process of deferring their mid-Aug to Dec born now, more than 50% of whom in recent years have had a December birthday and miss out on automatic funding by only days or a few weeks (including children who were born prematurely). And with the Covid-19 pandemic having closed nursery settings for five months last year and who knows for how long this time round, it’s an even harsher blow for those whose children will have had minimal time there if they have to go to school in August instead of deferring. 

I sincerely hope the second year of the pilot in 2022-2023 sees more of these issues being addressed. The 2021-2022 scheme is good, but not good enough. Many questions remain but one in particular endures: have councils’ continued funding decisions ever been based solely on a child’s best interests or on nursery capacity and cost?

Patricia Anderson

Co-founder, Give Them Time Campaign 

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.

Right to defer in Scotland, Upstart Scotland

How Deferral Enabled Me To Thrive, Not Cope

From the beginning of our campaign we have heard views on deferral from a wide range of people including parents, academics and politicians.

However, the blog below highlights deferral from a different perspective: through the eyes of someone who has been deferred.

How Deferral Enabled Me To Thrive, Not Cope

Parents Experiences of Deferral, Right to defer in Scotland, Upstart Scotland

The Deferral Elephant in the Room

Nobody says it out loud but I believe many parents who consider and/or go through with deferring their child to start school a year later think it: have I let my child down? Have I not spent enough time speaking to them or playing with them or reading to them? Why aren’t they as ‘ready’ for school as their peers seem to be? Children have started school at this age in this country for 150 years so what have I done wrong? And the ultimate taboo: am I a bad parent?
NO, NO and NO again. It’s not your fault.
Even kids from affluent socio-economic backgrounds without attachment issues or the risk factors of poverty (both well known to impact on child development) and despite having been read to every day and having hands on, engaged parents still get delays.
For a long time I felt ashamed of myself as I thought I must be responsible for my child having a ‘deficit’ (I knew before Henry was two that he had a speech delay) and despite the well-meaning comments from professionals that he was still young and that I shouldn’t compare him to others, I knew that at some point there would be a diagnosis which there was – a comprehension and expressive (vocabulary) delay.
He’s now four and can’t always speak in sentences or recite full nursery rhymes or answer many straight-forward questions correctly like other kids his age can. My husband and I both have degrees, professional jobs and a good vocabulary (socio-economic background and parents’ level of education, particularly the mother’s, are well established predictors of a child’s future outcomes). We also have books in almost every room in our house (yes, you’ve guessed it, yet another predictor) and there have been no adverse childhood experiences.
However, the rarely focused on truth is that even advantaged kids still have language delays and other issues. I understand the paucity of research in this area as it makes sense to focus on analysing the factors where the greatest impact can be made for the greatest number and my understanding is that good parenting and the additional benefits wealth can bring generally help compensate for early delays over time.
However, the absence of evidence for this cohort of children only perpetuates the entrenched cultural mindset in the UK that ALL children should be ready for school at the same time and that if you defer them you are ‘holding them back’ (that phrase makes me prickle every time I hear it as it is loaded with judgement about my failure as a parent and ignorance about the abundance of research which proves children develop at different rates).
Just because there are things that can influence a child’s development, sometimes a child (like mine) has a ‘delay’ regardless of having had a solid attachment to a main caregiver, an excellent home learning environment, no adverse childhood experiences etc etc.
Henry also still bites other children occasionally. I’m not proud of this and in fact I am humiliated that I feel I have to use it as an example on the application to my local authority for a further year of nursery funding for his deferred year in order to show that my child is still also developing his ability to self-regulate his emotions (yet again another marker of future success) and would benefit from more time to get to grips with this.
However, Upstart Scotland’s research has taught me that while some of my child’s behaviours might not be socially appropriate, they are developmentally appropriate and when you see things through this lens, the guilt washes away. This is not to encourage parents to abdicate responsibility for teaching their child appropriate behaviours but it helps to view undesirable behaviours as a learning opportunity for a child who is naturally pushing their boundaries rather than seeing the behaviour as a failure of your parenting.
I am not a bad parent. For a long time I thought I must be but I have reflected and soul-searched and questioned myself – often through tears and frustration. I have read parenting books, scholarly articles and blogs and care deeply about my child’s development. He has a delay. It took me a while but I’ve now accepted that and I’ve stopped beating myself up about it too.
My first child is happy, well-mannered and is progressing well in school so I’m lucky I can take reassurance from that that I’m not a completely useless parent and that I know what’s best for my kids. But what if it’s your first child you want to defer and you don’t work in education or the public sector and know how things work there or how to find out about your rights? What about parents who are called to meetings with experienced professionals trying to convince them that they know their child better? What about  parents struggling to make ends meet who have no choice but to send their child to school despite their misgivings about their ‘readiness’? It’s simply not fair.
More needs to be done to challenge our steadfast cultural mindset that ‘earlier is better’ (I can’t say that other phrase I hate so much again here). It’s not just about transition, it’s about a full life.
I have been so heartened by the Give Them Time campaign. It has given me the confidence to pursue what I know is in the best interests of my child – his speech and understanding will be much more developed by Aug 2020 and he’ll be able to enjoy school more fully then rather than be bewildered and potentially chided for non-conformity this Aug.
Upstart Scotland gave me relief from my parental guilt; the Give Them Time campaign gives me hope.
Parents Experiences of Deferral, Right to defer in Scotland

Don’t Hold Back

From the moment my little February baby was born I thought she was exceptional! All parents do don’t they? T was in fact like most little people her age except she started talking in full sentences when she was one, knew most of her letter sounds and numbers up to 20 by 2 and by 3 could tell you the name of any animal or plant in the garden! We didn’t coach or teach her, she just seemed to want to know, so we answered her questions. T loved knowledge, she loved books, asked endless questions about the world around her and she didn’t seem to have a problem holding on to information that even I as a grown up found tricky to remember. My sister gave her the nickname ‘Matilda’ and we counted ourselves very lucky to have such a clever little person to raise.

Now when you have a child like this you find the comments about school start pretty early. “She’s really ready for school!” “Ooh I feel sorry for her teachers!” “I bet you can’t WAIT to send her to school!” The thing was, even though I had a very bright little girl on my hands there were other things she didn’t find so easy as a result. Socialising for example. Whenever we went to birthday parties she’d prefer to hang out and chat with us! Physical challenges, anything involving risk or chance, her busy little brain just over-thought it all and the thought of what might happen if she failed or fell would overwhelm her into opting out. The summer before her 4thbirthday we took the decision to move back to Scotland from England to be closer to family, then her noisy little brother was born. She had to cope with so much change in such a short time; was asking her to be ready to take on the social and emotional challenges of school as the youngest in her cohort too much? How would I explain it to the well-meaning relatives? “Yes but she is SO ready for school!” There were so many factors that led to my ultimate decision to defer her starting school but the best advice I got was from a fellow teacher who said “she’s not going to be any less READY in a year now is she?” The truth is they just get more ready.

I should explain that I’m a primary school teacher, so the decision should have been easy for me right? Yet I still grappled with that worry that lots of parents making the decision to defer have about potentially ‘holding their child back’. I feel that school, particularly the early years has a lot to do with confidence. Those crucial years play a fundamental part in your formation of your own sense of your ability, your understanding of who you are and what you’re good at. Yes we’re all good at different things and yes we have strengths and weaknesses and it’s important for kids to realise this. However, once you get to school, the direction and pace of your accumulation of the types of knowledge and skills we value as a society becomes less self-led the higher you progress up the school.  The amount of attention given to being good academically somewhat unfairly outweighs the fact that you’re good at gardening or golf all the way through school, until you ultimately leave school and become the next Charlie Dimmock or Tiger Woods. The question I found myself asking was why would I not give my child an extra year to build the ability or armour to negotiate that world?

As much as we are trying our hardest as a nation to make education more child centred and child led, it can be argued that the children with the most agency, access to risk, collaborative play, independent thinking, self-governed problem solving are in fact our very youngest in nursery. In nursery, if you want to get the scissors and glue out to build a scale representation of the Paw Patrol HQ well you can, maybe you’ll need to work on those social skills and recruit and manage some friends to help you! Maybe the responsive adults around you will recognise your love of engineering and adapt the play environment to enable you to extend your learning and experiences further by creating a engineering inspired role play area? In P5, if you spontaneously decided you needed to do the above, well I think even the most brilliant and responsive teachers would have to manage your expectations and politely ask you to get back to your writing/whatever task they were currently working on. I think my point is, giving your child another year in a good nursery setting is the oppositeof holding them back. It’s giving them more possibilities, not less.  Nursery should be the place where you get to test out your amazing ideas, follow your inspirations, learn how to make friends, share, explain your thinking, go deeper into your areas of interest supported by a much higher adult to child ratio than you get in P1. Perhaps the reason having lots of children deferred is so unpopular is that it’s expensive?

I can honestly say that the extra year of learning through play that we were able to give our girl was the best decision I made. Yes she would have ‘coped’ with school a year earlier, but I didn’t want her to just cope, I wanted her to manage and thrive. We’re two terms into her first year in P1 and she is doing great, I look at the pace of her homework and the weekly reading that gets sent home and listen to the endless chatter about friends and the dinner hall and the playground and cannot imagine doing all of that with her a year ago and her being as confident about it as she is now. In her extra year at nursery she went from being a loner to being a leader, she developed in self-awareness, gained buckets of empathy, grew in confidence and taught everyone the names of all the plants in the nursery garden. Now when anyone asks me whether I think they should defer (I get asked a lot being a teacher) my answer is always defer. Your child has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Early Years Perspective, Right to defer in Scotland

To Defer or not to Defer?

Questions of a similar nature have been agonised over through the ions of history; questions whereby the answer leads one way or the other to two different routes, each with their unknown pathways and destinations.

And yet this particular question need not exist. It exists as parents, and some staff, grapple with the enormity of ‘sending’ very young, often very immature, children to school – that is school defined in the eyes of much of the populace as “Big School” with its attendant structure, uniform, and three Rs. In many, if not most, cases the definition is built upon first hand experience of several decades ago…and sadly it is not unheard of still to witness small, energetic children being admonished with ‘just wait till you get to big school….’ No, the question need not arise if ‘Early Years’ was merged into one, as indeed Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence acknowledges with its levels. …’early’ spanning age three through Primary one, and first level from P2 and beyond. If we operated a kindergarten system much of the inevitable formality would be alleviated, transition would be eased and, most importantly, children would be enabled to learn at their appropriate developmental stage in a relevant manner.

I am delighted to see the expansion of what is often referred to as ‘play- based learning’ in primary one and two classes, and there are many dedicated, qualified, conscientious teachers and practitioners chipping away at past regimes to achieve this for children. I welcome this – what I prefer to think of as a more active and creative living and learning base for children – and fervently hope that funding and training support its growth.
But we are not there yet…at least not universally, so the question remains ‘to defer or not to defer?’

My answer is unequivocally ‘yes’ – but to state that without giving reason is perhaps not fair, so here is why I think it so vitally important. In an early years setting or nursery school the ratio of adult to child is better than in school which immediately means there is a greater chance of your child being spoken with and played with in adult company – therefore enhancing their communication and social skills. Early years have environments laid out to encourage movement from children, provoke curiosity and support individual interests and maturation stages. Timetables and strict curriculums do not exist and children can be immersed in continuous exploration experiencing a multitude of scenarios and developing skills that they will carry with them into their later years. – skills such as independence, confidence, being organised and understanding their contribution is as important as the next person’s.

A quality early years setting will spend at least as much time outside as it does inside, letting children see the workings of their world as they play physically, in role, and with imagination. Outings can be spontaneous, literacy and numeracy fostered in day to day life, and little people nurtured as unique and valued. To date schools seem unable to overcome the practicalities of such an approach.

In the same vein that parents may concern themselves that a friend’s child may sleep all night, sit up, eat, walk, and talk before their own so they gradually accept that children do get there in their own time. So it is with social and cognitive maturation. Some children are very physical and may yield paintbrushes, chalks and pencils with skill – or not – as the case may be; some will listen well to stories and poems perhaps memorising and reciting in full while others cannot sit still for 30 seconds. Some children will separate happily from parent or carer, others weep long into a morning until they feel loved and secure in a new environment. But you know what? They almost always get there in the end!

So if you have a child where your instinct is to defer, then do so… extra year in an early years setting makes a huge difference, and you will have a child better able to meet the challenges and fun of the next step of their education.

If you are interested in further reading around this subject Upstart Scotland has collated various articles evidencing educational and neuro-scientific research as to why it is important to get it right. If you wish to learn more about the principles upon which quality early years practice is founded read about Friedrich Froebel – credited with being the ‘Father of Kindergarten’ and whose beliefs and approach still stand strong today. If you need first hand reassurance about the value of deferral I am Head of a kindergarten and have lost count of the many children whom I have deferred and had the privilege of watching the resulting positive outcomes. I am also a mother who wishes she had had the opportunity to defer a December born son, and lastly I am a grandmother with two out of three grandchildren (in Scotland) who deferred and benefited enormously from doing so…the third had a March birthday!

So, for any parent asking the question ‘To defer or not to defer’, my answer is always DEFER!

By Alison Hawkins, Headteacher, Wester Coates Nursery School

(if quoting from this blog, please ensure 100% accuracy and attribute the author)


Parents Experiences of Deferral, Right to defer in Scotland

A Campaign That’s Given Me Courage – ‘Give Them Time’

Being a mum can be a lonely place at times.  You always worry, ‘Is my child okay?’ or ‘Am I doing the right thing?’.  Sometimes you feel that whatever decision you make will be the wrong one.  These were my initial thoughts when my husband and I began the deferral process for our child.  You could even say, I often buried my head in the sand as if the issue would resolve itself without a battle.  It was a nice thought but not our reality.  However, the ‘Give Them Time’campaign has given me the courage, encouragement and passion to talk about deferral and share with others my experience in the hope it can offer what the campaign has given me.

The early days

When I found out I was pregnant my husband and I were over the moon.  We talked from the beginning about sending our child to school at 5.5 because we were having a January baby. It wasn’t a long conversation or an argument, we just agreed with the other’s feelings.  We didn’t even know if the baby would be healthy.  In fact, that was our biggest concern then.  After an easy pregnancy (as if there is such a thing!), I gave birth at the end of December instead of January.  I was really pleased to have a Christmas baby and my sister was home too. Perfect!  However, it was not until my child reached nursery that I realised what this meant. We would potentially have to send them to school at 4.5.

During our child’s time at nursery we moved from one region to another.  Would deferral be met with the same negativity as it was in our original area? The answer was indeed yes.  I didn’t know what to do. I was lost in a form I couldn’t and didn’t know how to answer about additional needs, which my child didn’t have or limited communication.  I was ushered into a room to see how serious we were about ‘deferral’.  I felt so lost, frustrated, isolated with no one who understood to talk with about it. I was anxious that my child would have to sit at a desk aged four when they should be playing.  Why the big rush?

Why we wanted to defer

In the end, their place at nursery was taken away and school looked like the only option.  I had lots of professional parents wondering why we didn’t want to send our child to school.  They would say ‘My child started at 4.5 and they are getting on fine’ and I am sure they were.  For me though, something just didn’t feel right, and my husband felt it too. I was often told your child is ‘smart and will cope with the work’.  It’s arrogant but that wasn’t my worry.  It was simple things like sitting in a seat, going to the toilet independently, listening or sitting to do homework.  I knew our child was smart and I didn’t need a test to tell me that. I had spent the last four years with this wee person and knew that they were academically capable, but would they be ready for the classroom?  Primary teachers have a hard-enough job as it is without dealing with behaviour that is more suited to a nursery setting.

We thought we didn’t have a choice

We thought school was the only option.  I cried so much. This was not what we wanted for our child.  Why could no one see?  I felt desolate and cried to my husband.  That’s when we looked at the law and discovered we had a legal right to defer. I was confused and worried I was breaking the law but my husband reassured me that even though our child didn’t have a place at a state nursery, we could send them to a private one.

Silence and misinformation

Communication from the local authority had become non-existent. In fact, it had stopped.  However, when I managed to make contact, we were told that if we sent our child to a private nursery, they would be placed on the home schooling register so that they didn’t fall off the Council’s radar. This made me worried that what we were doing was falling fowl of the law. I have nothing against home schooling but this was not our choice. Why couldn’t deferral be reflected more accurately in their records? Would they try to force our child to start primary two a year down the line? Couldn’t they see that I didn’t want our child’s education to suffer, I wanted our child to prosper? I wept down the phone. ‘My child is not being home schooled. We are sending our child to a private nursery.  We are not asking for funding.  What is the problem?’. I wasn’t asking for funding – I never had.  In hindsight, maybe we should have but I had long accepted that prevailing attitudes about deferral and the current economic climate meant we would not stand a chance.

My husband was an invaluable source of support.  He wrote a well-articulated letter that night which stated the law, asked for our child to be taken off the home schooling list and explained that they would be going to a private nursery for a year before starting primary one.  We could only afford four days with our savings and we were lucky to have our parents to help a bit with childcare too.  I know that not everyone is as lucky with this level of support, but we were determined to make it work.  We had enough money until the January, but the private nursery encouraged us to look at a salary sacrifice scheme which also helped us afford it.  I am grateful for all their encouragement and support.  I don’t think they will ever understand my gratitude towards them.

You are not alone

After the ups and downs of last year, I was introduced to this campaign by a friend.  It was such a relief to realise that we were never alone, that other parents were experiencing issues deferring their child too.  I felt liberated, I wasn’t that difficult parent when talking to other parents in the ‘Give Them Time’campaign.  There were others in a similar situation.  Just to have that sense of release was wonderful.  To hear about others’ struggles and hardship was a comfort, selfishly.  To meet and speak to other parents in a similar position has been invaluable and often a great source of support.  However, bigger than the campaign for me was the realisation in myself.  It was profound. My decisions for my child are right quite a lot, particularly with deferral.  Sometimes all you need is a wee bit of hope, a big bit of courage and another wee bit of encouragement when it comes to your child.   You are not alone when it comes to deferral and it was the ‘Give Them Time’ campaign that gave me this.  It is wonderful to share this with others and I hope the campaign gives others what it has given me.  To parents out there, you are not alone and it’s okay to want your child to more than cope at school but to thrive.

Right to defer in Scotland

Four-year-old struggling with homework – he wasn’t ready for school

Children in Scotland can start school from four-and-a-half years old. For many this is too young as they develop at different rates. This video shows the effects of trying to formally educate children who aren’t developmentally ready.

Four year old struggling with homework – he wasn’t ready for school

Continue reading “Four-year-old struggling with homework – he wasn’t ready for school”