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.