Belfast Telegraph

School entry delay rights proposed

Parents could be allowed to delay their children's entry to primary school under proposals launched by Northern Ireland's education minister.

Schooling could be deferred by a year under exceptional circumstances if children are not as developed as expected.

Education Minister John O'Dowd said: "The decision of whether to grant a deferral will be made by an expert panel, on the basis of evidence provided by the parent and only where it is in the best interests of the child to do so."

Only children with a statement of special educational needs are eligible for deferral of their school enrolment in Northern Ireland, according to campaign group ParentsOutLoud.

The school starting age lobby group had wanted parents of children in a number of other categories to have an automatic right to deferral. This would have included the youngest for year children, those born prematurely or as part of a multiple birth, adopted and looked after children, and those with non-statemented additional needs.

Mr O'Dowd has launched a consultation on the proposals.

He added: "This is a topical subject and one that I committed to looking at with a view to developing a solution that suits all parties, but most importantly, a solution that is in the best interests of the child.

"It is my intention to introduce a policy to allow deferral of the compulsory school starting age for children in exceptional circumstances."

Dr Liz Fawcett, Northern Ireland representative of ParentsOutLoud, said this would permit some flexibility.

"We are disappointed that the proposals don't include an automatic right of deferral for some categories of children, such as the youngest for year and premature birth children, which was what we'd been asking for.

"However, we are also anxious to see some flexibility introduced as quickly as possible - so we hope the minister will act swiftly to make the necessary changes, once parents and others have had a chance to comment on the proposals."

Mark Langhammer, Northern Ireland director of the ATL teaching union, said some children were starting school before they were ready, to the detriment of their educational performance and self-confidence.

"We do believe the proposals could go further - and we think it's vital that a parent's view of their own child's capability is fully considered in any deferral application process."

The consultation will run until March.

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