Delaying school entry

Primary school aged children with balloons and Bliss banner

As a result of being born prematurely, some children might benefit from starting reception year a little later.

While there is no legal reason why children can’t start reception year at five rather than four, many schools and admissions authorities are reluctant to allow children to start school at this age.

This is why we have been campaigning for many years for greater flexibility, particularly for children who are born premature in the summer months and have fallen into a different school year group as a result.

Campaign developments

Following campaigning from Bliss and parents, a revised English School Admissions Code was released in December 2014, alongside updated guidance, Advice on the Admission of Summer Born Children.

These documents tell Admissions Authorities that prematurity is a factor which they should be taking into account when deciding if delaying a child’s start in reception till they are five is in their best interests.

On 4 March 2015, Bliss gave evidence to the Education Select Committee and scrutinised the evidence used by the Government to inform its summer born policy.

We pressed for a change of policy so that once a child successfully delays their school start they are not forced to miss a year later on. We also highlighted the lack of awareness amongst teachers about how children are affected by their prematurity once they start school.

On 7 September 2015, Nick Gibb MP released an open letter stating that it is his intention to make further changes to the School Admissions Code so summer-born children can automatically start reception at five years old, and remain with that year group throughout school.

This follows a debate, led by Stephen Hammond MP the evening before where the Minister also committed to considering allowing due date, rather than birth date, to be used when making admissions decisions.

However, since 2015 there has been little progress. Despite continuing pressure from Bliss, Stephen Hammond MP and other campaign organisations, the Government has still not released the promised consultation - and there has been no change in policy.

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Tiffany's story

Tiffany's daughter Ella was born in the summer months at just 25 weeks. This is Tiffany's story about how she made the decision to delay Ella's start in reception year until she turned five.
Read more
Toddler wearing white jacket sat in a field of daffodils

Starting school across the UK

There is no standard process for starting school across the UK because education is a devolved issue. This means the Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland create their own laws around when children should start school.


The youngest children in Scotland (born in January and February) are able to automatically defer starting the first year of school until they are six years old.

For children born at other points in the year, their parents can apply for a discretionary deferral and will need to provide evidence for why their child would benefit from a delayed start to P1.


Like in England, compulsory school age is five years old. While the Wales School Admissions Code does suggest a child can start reception at five, their is less legislative support than in England.

There is currently no additional guidance for authorities on how to makes admissions decisions based on these requests, either.

Northern Ireland

Children must start school the September after they turn four in Northern Ireland - one of the lowest compulsory school ages in the world. There is currently no flexibility for deferring a child's school starting age.

In December 2014, the Northern Ireland Executive set up a consultation on the issue where over 90 percent of respondents agreed that there needed to be some flexibility. Despite this, no plans were put in place to change legislation.