‘Our daughter isn’t ready to start school in September’

Derek and Alison Magill with their daughter Ellen (3)
Derek and Alison Magill with their daughter Ellen (3)

A Portadown couple who want their three-year-old daughter to start school later than normal have urged the Education Minister to act swiftly on the issue.

Alison and Derek Magill were responding to new proposals on school starting age flexibility which were issued last week by the Department of Education.

The department has proposed that parents should have the right to request a year’s deferral of their child’s primary school enrolment where they believe it would be in their child’s best interests.

However, under the proposals, parents would have to provide evidence that their child is failing to meet developmental milestones and requests would only be granted in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Alison and Derek daughter Ellen was born on July 1. Had she been born just one day later, she would have had to wait another year to start school – but because there’s currently no flexibility on the school starting age in Northern Ireland, little Ellen is due to start school in September next year.

“Ellen can be a shy child and she hasn’t settled easily at the playgroup she currently attends,” explained Alison. “We feel very strongly that she’d be much better off starting school in September 2016 rather than next year. That would give her time to build her confidence.

“While we welcome the fact that the department has put forward proposals on introducing a little flexibility, we’re concerned that we’d still have no automatic right to defer Ellen’s school entry, and we’re worried that the proposed system probably won’t be up and running in time to allow Ellen to benefit from it.”

An umbrella campaign group, which is jointly led by the parents’ organisation ParentsOutLoud and the teachers’ union ATL, had wanted children in certain categories to be given an automatic right of deferral where parents felt it was in their child’s best interests.

Dr Liz Fawcett, Northern Ireland representative of ParentsOutLoud, said, “We’re really grateful that the Education Minister is listening to parents and has proposed a system which would permit a measure of 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.”