My son is three and in just over a week’s time he shall be starting primary school. He was born in Scotland where the autumn term starts in the middle of August and the cut off date for the intake is in February, which explains a little why nobody even thought to mention the date when they admitted me to hospital for an induction a matter of hours before the end of the month.
Theo is incredibly excited about attending “big” school and has spent the last few months complaining that he finds his nursery boring. I’m not for one minute suggesting he is gifted or particularly bright, but he’s tall for his age, confident and enthusiastic and I look at him and think it would be tortuous to hold him back from formal schooling for another 12 months.
As his parents we are in the unusual situation of having done it all before. Jim and I are both August babies and the youngest in our respective school years. My main memory of being born in August is of never having to go to school on my birthday and of always (or almost always) having a party in the garden, I thought I was pretty lucky. Both Jim and I were never really aware of the implications of being younger than our peers until later in life and so never had the chance for the dire predictions about our outcomes to become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Now summer born babies are an annual story and the papers are full of statistics, court battles and gloomy forecasts for our children’s future. Summer babies are apparently more likely to be bullied, fair worse at exams and struggle with physical activities. One study even concluded that by the age of seven they are three times more likely to be regarded as below average by their teachers and 20% less likely to go to a top university. Yet Bill Clinton, Madonna, Barack Obama and Roger Federer were all born in August.
At school neither Jim nor I excelled at sports and I can still barely catch a ball to this day, but both of us came from families that weren’t particularly sporty, so it seems unlikely that our birth months and alleged lack of physical development are entirely responsible. Two decades after leaving education, Jim now plays cricket for our local team and I had a memorable season playing ice hockey when we lived in Canada. Neither of us are great, but we have fun and isn’t that what sport is supposed to be about?
As far as school results are concerned, I was probably particularly lucky that I never felt under pressure academically from my parents and when at some point early in my senior schooling a teacher sent a letter home suggesting I was tested for dyslexia, my parents ignored it and left me to learn at my own pace. I’m sure many will be horrified by this, but my parents knew their child and within a few years I’d knuckled down and caught up on my writing and spelling. I was never given a reason to think I couldn’t do as well as everyone else, but equally I was never pressured to achieve more than I could.
The lottery of birth month is the first of many uneven playing fields that our children will have to face in their lifetime. One of the arguments about August babies is that all children are different and some are particularly disadvantaged, but if we try to even out this inequality there will only be more we can’t control. Divorces, separations, house moves, illness, siblings, differences in income and class size, geography and social status all of which will tip their prospects one way or another.
So what I’m really trying to say is this… If you have a summer born child starting school this September, try not to worry too much about their schooling or to endeavour to smooth the path that lies ahead of them. Your son or daughter has an amazing opportunity. A chance to push themselves to excel amongst kids who are older and more skilled than them and your job as a parent is to stand behind them and to offer gentle encouragement. Don’t let their birth month be an excuse or a crutch, let them find their place amongst their peers and enjoy the experience of school. They’ll be fine, trust me.