Coronavirus: Parents urged not to defer infants starting school

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John Swinney said parents would have no reason to attempt to defer entry to primary school

The education secretary is advising parents of infants due to start school this year not to defer entry because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A group set up by the government is looking at several possible issues affecting the resumption of education.

These include the chance more parents will want their children to start Primary 1 in 2021 instead of this August.

John Swinney said building parental confidence was vital.

Mr Swinney is chairing the Scottish government’s Education Recovery Group. This is meeting regularly to address a whole range of issues surrounding the reopening of schools.

Its members are drawn from a range of bodies across education including government agencies, councils and unions.

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One of a number of sub-groups is looking at the issues surrounding deferred entry into Primary 1.

Mr Swinney was asked about deferrals on BBC Radio’s Good M’orning Scotland programme.

He said: “I wouldn’t advise it.

“What we’re airing is all the issues we’ve got to be aware of and we’ve got to be thinking through and make sure that we build that confidence.”

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The Scottish government said parents’ rights for deferring their child’s school entry date were unaffected by the coronavirus.

Mr Swinney said that as the father of a young boy, he would want to feel confident about the child’s safety and security when he returned to school.

A number of councils have told BBC Scotland they are unaware of any signs that parents are asking to delay the start of their children’s schooling because of the pandemic.

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Edinburgh City Council said it had not seen a significant rise in requests to delay, receiving 110 discretionary deferral applications this year – compared with 101 last year.

Nine had been received after the normal closing date, against 32 last year.

Only some parents have the right to seek a deferral and normally this would have been requested by this point in the year anyway.

‘Not straightforward’

Each new P1 class contains children born between March of one year and February the following year – this year’s P1 intake would principally be made up of children born between March 2015 and February 2016.

Parents whose children would not be five by the time time they started school have the right to defer entry for a year.

However, it is not completely straightforward: only those born in January and February are automatically entitled to another year of free nursery education. This means that in some cases, parents who defer would need to find other nursery arrangements for a year.

Some within education caution that parents should think carefully before they seek to defer their child’s starting date. Different children develop at different rates.

They would suggest that the pandemic should not be a factor in the parents’ decision – it should be about what may be in the child’s educational interests.

‘Place of safety’

The Scottish government said parents’ rights for deferring their child’s entry date into primary school were unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokeswoman said: “We are looking very carefully at how and when we welcome children back to schools in Scotland, and children’s safety and wellbeing remains at the heart of any decision-making.

“We want parents to be confident about sending their children to school, for staff to be confident about coming to work, and for pupils to feel they are coming to a place of safety.

“Parents whose children are joining P1 this August may be more anxious about the transition into school given the time away from their nursery or playgroup as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Schools and local authorities are planning carefully to ensure a smooth transition for the new P1 children, and this is being looked at by the Education Recovery Group to give children joining the best start possible at school.”

BBC News

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