Deferring or delaying a primary school place

A teacher helping three primary school children with their work in a classroom

How do I choose to defer or delay when I start the primary school application?

The way the school year is organised is different across the UK, but in each case, applications are made to the local council. The UK government site can help you find the council you need for your application here for England and Wales.


When can I apply?

In England, applications for primary school places usually open in September and close in January. Places are offered in April for the next school year starting in the September after your child turns 4.

Even if you want to defer or delay your child’s primary school place, you should still apply as if your child will be starting within their age group.

Primary schools will offer open mornings or tours to parents and carers who are interested in sending their child there. Visit the schools and speak with the headteacher or SENDCo to understand how they can support your child. You can ask them about deferring or delaying a place based on your child’s premature birth.

How does it work?

The process for requesting a school place outside of the normal age group will be on your local council or admission authority’s website. This will outline how to request your child’s place is delayed or deferred.

Only list the schools that have indicated they will support your decision to delay or defer your child’s school start. Without the support of the school, you are unlikely to have your request approved.

When applying for a place, the council may ask you to fill in an additional form outlining why you wish your child to have their place delayed. In some cases this application for delay needs to go to the school itself.

The council/authority will consider the parent’ or carers’ views, as well as social, academic, and medical information about the child. They will also consider what the headteacher of the school thinks.

In the case of premature birth, admission authorities must also think about the age group that the child would have been in if they were born at full term. Each decision should be considered individually and made in the best interests of the child. See our checklist for suggestions of the documents you can include to support your request.

The Department for Education has published a guide called Summer-born children starting school: advice for parents, which provides a step-by-step guide to making an application.

What happens next?

If your application to delay is accepted, you will need to go through the primary school application process again the following year. Please be aware that there is no guarantee that your child will receive a place at your chosen school.

If your request to delay is refused, you can make an in-year application for them to start school in Year 1. Or, you can accept the Reception space you’ve been offered and discuss options with the school itself - perhaps starting later in the year or part-time attendance.

There is no right to appeal the authority’s decision, but you can make a complaint. Once the complaints procedure has been completed, you can refer it to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman or the Education and Skills Funding Agency if the school is an academy.


When can I apply?

In Wales, the school year starts in September. The local authority can help you understand what primary schools there are in your area and advise you on the best way to apply. The My Local School website also provides parents/carers with school data.

The admissions period usually opens during September and October and lasts for six weeks. Offers of primary school places are made in mid-April.

How does it work?

Applications for places in community schools and voluntary controlled schools go to the local authority, which makes the decision about offering places. Applications for places in voluntary aided and foundation schools go to the schools directly, and the governing body decides on admissions.

Because children do not have to be in school until they reach compulsory school age (the term after they turn 5), the admissions authorities in Wales must offer parents the chance to defer entry until later in the school year.

What happens next?

The place is held for that child so they can join later in the Reception year. They will need to start before the end of Reception. Or, they will lose their place and will have to reapply for a start in Year 1 (they would not usually join the next Reception class).

See our checklist for suggestions of the documents you can include to support your request to delay or defer your child’s start at school.


When can I apply?

In Scotland, the school year runs from mid-August to the end of June and the year groups are split based on birthdays that fall between the start of March and the end of February the following year. Children born in January and February are therefore the youngest in the school year, and the phrase “summer-born” is not used.

How does it work?

Applications for primary school places are made to the local councils who decide where a place is offered based on catchment areas – a place is generally offered at the school closest to where you live. If your child has additional support needs and you wish them to go to a specific school, the council has a duty to grant your request.

Information about how to apply for school places is usually sent to parents in a letter or advertised locally between December and February. Contact your local council to see what options are available.

The Scottish Government has published a guide to help you select a school. It recommends visiting your local schools and meeting with headteachers.

The system in Scotland allows a child to start school later, even if they were not born premature:

  • The Education Act (1980) in Scotland gives parents and carers the legal right to defer their child’s start at primary school if the child is aged 4 at the time they are due to start school. This is offered to everyone, not just children who were born premature.
  • “Defer” in this case actually means delaying the start of school – the children that defer will not miss any school years and will start the following August in P1 (the first year of primary school).
  • If your child’s birthday is in January or February and you do defer, you will automatically get an extra year of early learning and childcare funding.
  • For children born between the start of the school term in August and January, parents/carers can still choose to defer a place, but they will not automatically receive this funding. It is possible to apply for funding from the local council.
  • There is no option to start school partway through the year or for part-time learning.

What happens next?

Since the option to delay starting school is automatically given to the younger children in the school year, there should be no need to appeal. However, if you are not happy with the school place that your child is given, you can appeal to an independent committee set up by the authority. If that committee agrees with the council, you can refer the case to the local sheriff.

Northern Ireland

When can I apply?

The school year in Northern Ireland starts in September. Children aged 4 years old on or before 1 July start their primary education from the following September. This means that the oldest children in the year are those with birthdays from 2 July onwards. The youngest have their birthday in April/May/June and on 1 July. They are known as “young for year”.

How does it work?

Applications for places are made through the online Education Authority system. The Education Authority’s step-by-step guide can help parents through the application process.

Under current laws, children must start school at the age of 4, meaning that there is no way of delaying or deferring unless there is a Statement of Special Educational Needs.

However, with the support of TinyLife premature baby charity, the Department of Education has been petitioned to change this to allow premature summer-born children (in this case those born between 1 April and 1 July)[1] to start school in the year that they were due to be born.

What happens next?

The School Age Bill passed its Final Stage in the Assembly in February 2022 and the Department for Education will be working with the Education Authority to give the option of deferral to parents and carers from September 2022.

This means premature children born “young for year” will have the option to start primary education in the September following their fifth birthday, instead of a year earlier.

See our checklist for suggestions of the documents you could submit to support your request to delay or defer your child’s start at school.