Parent's View, Parents Experiences of Deferral

When is Their Peer Group NOT Their Peer Group?

In 2016 I submitted an application to Aberdeenshire Council to defer my December born daughter from starting school that summer until 2017. I was initially refused and met with point blank refusal by the Education Department. I was told that my daughter must start school at four-and-a-half years old and because she had no developmental or physical issues that I would not be able to appeal this decision.  However, they were wrong. I did appeal and I was successful.

After much research I realised that I was not asking permission to defer my daughter’s school entry. You do not need permission to defer your child.   I was requesting additional funding for a nursery placement for an extra year. This completely changed my strategy. I was not legally obliged to start my child in school before the August after she turned five years old.

My first priority was my daughter. I removed her from her five-day per week nursery class and swiftly enrolled her back to her old playgroup at two sessions per week, which we initially funded. The change in my daughter was immediate.

I could very easily notice the difference between her and her previous peers when she first started playgroup  in 2014. The difference was stark and very obvious in terms of maturity. She lacked confidence and did not always want to join in with activities, be seen or noticed and felt self-conscious. She also did not enjoy being in groups of more than two or three children, as noticed by the Playgroup Leader. She was not bonding with her peers. When she moved up with these children to nursery it became even more apparent that she was not ready for a more formal learning setting and it was a horrendous experience. She became withdrawn and weepy. Begging not to go to nursery. The effect on her was so extreme that  I am so grateful that I made the decision to pull her out of nursery and put her back to playgroup.

This was the best decision I could have made. Having gone back to playgroup with a new set of younger peers, she thrived. Her confidence was blooming and she was finally forming friendships and bonded with these new children. I believed that this demonstrated that she had found her ‘peer level’ and I documented this and reported within my appeal that I was of the firm view that it would be very detrimental for her mental health and emotional health to be removed from this group of children and their age group and that she should stay with them and move onto nNursery with them. The Playgroup Leader wrote a letter to support this, and I also attached letters of support from my local MP and health visitor.

I argued that it would be a huge disadvantage for my daughter to be cut off from her peers as she would definitely be deferred from starting school until August 2017 as was my decision. Therefore, to deny her a funded place at nursery would be to deny her any access to her peer group with whom she will be starting school, where she would miss out on the bonding and friendship forming stage of her development with them. It would also deny her the opportunity to grow more confident and to have that extra year to adjust to a more formal learning environment in her own time. I argued this would have a huge, detrimental effect on her emotional and mental health and that Aberdeenshire Council would be held accountable.

My daughter secured her extra year at nursery and I did not even have to attend an appeal panel. I made the right decision and do not regret in any way pulling her out of nursery and moving her back down to playgroup.

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.

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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:

https://www.upstart.scot/why-give-them-time-now/