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.

Parents Experiences of Deferral

Parents’ View Not Required

My son was born in November.  I spoke to my son’s nursery teacher and the manager of the nursery several times before I was required to register him at his local primary school by the end of January.

Why We Wanted to Defer 

Before my son was even three-years-old, my husband and I had discussed deferment to school.  This was for a number of reasons but we were not convinced he would cope at age four.  However, we kept an open mind and decided to discuss this not only with his nursery but other professionals/ workers involved in my son’s life at that time. Everyone was supportive of our view in the November/ December prior to registering him at school.

In January I met with the head teacher of the local primary school.  He instantly empathised with my view of deferment and agreed that as a parent I should do what I believed was best for my son.  The head teacher was very supportive and provided me with a leaflet to complete in order to register that I was deferring my son.  This leaflet provided details of the deferment process and required me to complete my son’s personal details along with my own. There was no opportunity at this point to give reasons for deferment.

The information leaflet advised that someone from the Education Department would contact me to discuss my views and reasons for deferment.  The Nursery also echoed this.

Two Months Later

In March I had received no communication or even receipt/ acknowledgement of my deferment application.  The Nursery Manager advised that an official from the Education Department had contacted her, that she had completed a form and that she had shared a view of support in our decision to defer.

I enquired to the Nursery again in April in respect of when I would receive some communication from the Council but the Manager was unclear and advised that there had been a delay in the process due to the bad winter weather.

At the end of April I received a letter on a Saturday morning from the Head of Education advising me that my application for deferment had been rejected and that it was the Department’s view that my son was ready for primary one.  He copied this letter to the Nursery and the Head Teacher of the local primary school and advised me to proceed in contacting them to discuss my son’s transition to school.  The letter stated that a panel meeting was held and that this was where the decision was made.

Our Reaction

I was shocked that the process was over without any contact or communication with me.  No one had asked why I was deferring my son.

I wrote a letter of response to the Head of Education at the end of April highlighting that no one had contacted me to ask my view. I highlighted that the process outlined in the deferment leaflet for the local authority had not been followed.  I also made clear that my son would not be attending school for the following term.

By June I still had not received any correspondence or acknowledgement for this letter.  In the meantime I contacted my local councillor who was initially interested and had advised that there were problems with communication within the Council and agreed to follow this up for me.  I have never heard from her again.

How We Were Let Down

I submitted a Freedom of Information Request and Subject Access Request for information recorded on my son but also data recorded by the Council over the last five years on deferment processes.  Information received from the Subject Access Request showed that a Deferment Form had been completed and the section required to outline why the deferment application had been made was blank.  My husband and I had never seen this form before and no one had ever asked us to complete this form.  Yet this form was the reason that the deferment application was rejected – because there was no supporting information.  I had written a 10-page document in preparation for attending a panel/meeting or any discussion about the reasons for deferment.  These reasons related to Getting it Right for Every Child and the SHANARRI indicators, which form part of an assessment for a child.

In June I contacted the Council to enquire about any response from the Head of Education.  I was told that a response had been sent out to me.  During the conversation with this Council employee, I was advised by her that I should seek legal advice as not sending my son to school when he was registered may be tantamount to breaking the law.  This made me feel really concerned and I began looking at options for legal support.  However, at the same time I had initiated some discussion within the Upstart Scotland and Upstart Glasgow Facebook groups and had been clearly advised by over fifty people that I had a legal right to defer my child as he would not be age five by the school commencement date.

Later that same day, the council employee emailed me the response from the Head of Education.  This letter categorically stated that all processes had been followed correctly and ignored everything else I had written in the letter.

What Happened When I Complained

I submitted a complaint in June to ask a number of questions about the process and to complain about my experience, particularly the lack of involvement we, the parents, had had in the process.

The response to this complaint letter was received at the end of June, which advised that I was given the wrong deferment information leaflet and that all processes had been followed.  They advised that it is the nursery’s responsibility to communicate information to me from the Council and for them to communicate back to the Council also.  The letter stated that parents are not involved in the panel discussions and that given that my son had no additional support needs and that no supporting information had been submitted, he was not viewed as a priority for extra funding. They stated that since my son had good communication and language skills, had no health problems and was happy, safe and secure as well as having a best friend, that he was deemed suitable to attend school.  They advised that there was no need to consult further with a parent.

Ultimately they blame the nursery for the poor communication with only one acknowledgement in my complaint being upheld in that they do not send any acknowledgements to alert the sender that they have received their letter.

I had contacted the local MSP, the Minister for Children and Young People, Maree Todd, and John Swinney, Education Minister. I am now receiving support from my local MSP but this was after several contacts to him and him attending the Give Them Time Campaign launch where he realised the extent of my concern in relation to deferment processes.

In the End

The outcome of this experience (which lasted six months) is a feeling of being completely failed by the local council.  This is an emotional and exhausting process leaving me with little confidence or faith in the system.  My son will remain in private nursery for a further year with the full payment of fees being paid by ourselves.  This will have substantial impact financially on us.

I have a real concern about what this process means for parents who cannot afford to pay the private nursery fees.  This means parents who cannot afford the fees are forced to send a child to school against their will ultimately.  Thankfully, there is now a collective campaign of parents raising the issues of how parents are treated by local government officials . I truly hope that Give Them Time can make a difference and that no other parents have to go through what we did.


The parent who wrote this blog wishes to remain anonymous.

Campaign News

Why We Need ‘Give Them Time’ Now

It’s not just a case of, “There’s no time like the present”. We genuinely believe the issues this campaign raises need to be resolved now before it becomes even harder to do so down the line. This guest blog by Give Them Time for Upstart Scotland explains why:

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”

Right to defer in Scotland

30 hours and 7 minutes

baby sleeping on white cotton
Photo by Pixabay on

When I was due my first child, the doctor recommended an induced labour and I was booked into hospital for this on hogmanay. Apart from my desperation for him to arrive (a mix of a maternal longing to meet him and being sick of the hassles that had accompanied the pregnancy), I was genuinely afraid of having the first baby of the new year in Scotland and reporters trying to take my photo – no amount of free nappies would have granted them my permission!

Not once did I think about deferral.

And yet, despite the delay to the induction and his eventual arrival at 6.07am on 2nd January, I had no idea at the time how fortunate I had been that my son was born at the start of the new calendar year rather than at the end of the previous one. For in Scotland, parents who want to exercise their legal right to defer a four-year-old to start school a year later, Jan and Feb born children are entitled to an automatically funded extra year of nursery whereas the other four year olds’ (mid-Aug to Dec borns) parents have to apply to their local authority for this and it is not guaranteed.

Continue reading “30 hours and 7 minutes”