Children to start full-time school slightly older than now, under plans approved by cabinet

CHILDREN in Carmarthenshire who start school before they are aged four would have to wait until they have turned four, if changes to the current arrangements are implemented.

Cabinet members have approved a recommendation to consult on the school admissions proposal, which could be implemented in September 2024.
A detailed assessment on the impact of the proposed change on each school will be undertaken and a recommendation for each one brought forward.

A report before cabinet said Carmarthenshire was the only council in Wales which admitted pupils full-time in the term of their fourth birthday. Most councils admit pupils full-time the September after they turn four.

Cllr Linda Evans, deputy leader for the Plaid Cymru-Independent authority, said the admissions change was needed to create consistency across the county.

“If we don’t have consistency, we don’t have fairness,” she said.

Labour opposition leader, Cllr Rob James, said after the meeting that he thought the current policy was vital in giving young children a head start. He described cabinet’s decision as “astonishing”.

Currently, Carmarthenshire’s policy for the admission of children to 3-11 and 4-11 primary schools is that children are admitted on a full-time basis as follows:

– In September for those who have their fourth birthday between September 1 to December 31

– In January for those who have their fourth birthday between January 1 to March 31

– In April for those who have their fourth birthday between April 1 to August 31.

This can create a large year group of four-year-olds within a school, which places pressure on schools where places are limited – although it can be alleviated at those schools with a nursery.

The cabinet report said one of the consequences of large year groups of four-year-olds was a reduced overall school capacity, or that the council had to fund additional space in new schools.

It added that the council was already experiencing an increasing number of appeals from parents whose preference for a school could not be accommodated.

The report concluded that the current arrangements presented a “significant challenge” for the design and funding of new primary schools, although it added that changing the policy would likely be unpopular with parents.

“Taking away the ability for pupils to start full-time a term earlier, even it is replaced by increased wraparound care, may be seen as a reduction in provision,” it said.

The report added that the council has had numerous requests from 4-11 schools to become 3-11. Should a detailed review conclude that all primaries became 3-11, it said, equality of provision would be provided – but such a significant change would require a full statutory consultation.

Speaking at the cabinet meeting, council leader Darren Price said the childcare offer in Wales of up to 30 hours per week for three and four-year-olds “has changed things significantly”.

Cllr Glynog Davies, cabinet member for education and Welsh language, said it was important that wraparound care was provided.

“The last thing we want to see is parents give up their jobs in order to look after their children,” he said.

Cllr Davies said his vision was for education from three years old.

Cllr James said Carmarthenshire Labour believed the current admissions policy was essential to supporting families with escalating costs of private care and providing pupils with a head start. He said Carmarthenshire also still had a large number of surplus school places.

“The idea that we should delay the start date for our pupils is astonishing,” he said. “These will be the very children that have suffered during the pandemic with the lockdowns and an inability to mix with other children, so it is essential that we have as many opportunities as possible to support our young learners.”

Cllr James said nursery provision needed to be made more consistent but that the proposal agreed by cabinet would decrease support for families when cost of living pressures and workforce shortages were acute.

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