THE PARENTS of summer-born twins have slammed the council after education bosses said their children should start school in year one rather than reception in September, despite an expert advising this would mean they would “struggle hugely”.

Esraa Samaha and her husband are parents to four-year-old twins who were born four weeks before their due date, meaning they would need to start school one academic year earlier without having attended reception.

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One of the twins has a speech delay and English is their second language, so the children’s parents asked Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) chiefs if the toddlers could start reception in September 2020, rather than year one at school.

Bracknell News:

An education consultant who examined the twins said they would “struggle hugely” should they start year one in September 2020, but WBC refused the parents’ appeal.

Despite a local government watchdog ruling WBC had made the decision incorrectly, the verdict still stands - much to the mother’s anger.

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Esraa told the News: “I know my children inside out and they will not be able to go to school this year.

“Why would a mum fight to pay a lot of money for a nursery full-time for two kids if I wasn’t completely sure they were not ready for school?

“I’m dealing with people that are not aware of the law and who simply don’t care.”

Bracknell News:

Guidance from the Department for Education says parents can ask the school admissions authority to agree to admit their child to reception year at age five.

The authority - in this case, Wokingham Borough Council - must decide whether starting in reception or year one is in the best interests of the child[ren] concerned, taking into account the impact of missing reception.

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In December 2018, the Samaha family asked WBC to allow their twins to start in reception year at age five as they felt they would struggle to meet the academic expectations of school if they started year one early.

Bracknell News:

But in January 2019, the council told the family it would be refusing their request as there was not enough evidence to show this move was in the children’s best interests.

Parents of the twins then provided “30 pages of documents” from therapists, nursery teachers and school teachers as evidence, including the statement which said the children would “struggle hugely” as their “physical, linguistic, cognitive, social and emotional development” was not advanced enough.

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WBC said there was still not enough evidence to overturn its previous decision and the family then complained, but council bosses decided it would not investigate the matter further.

Following this, the family then complained to the Local Government Ombudsman, which found WBC did not consider the legally required question of whether it would be in the children’s best interests to start in reception or in year one in September 2020.

Bracknell News:

The watchdog’s verdict read: “Because of the council’s fault, [the family] has been left uncertain as to whether the council would have agreed to his request, had it followed the correct decision-making process.

“I am also mindful other families may be affected by fault in the council’s decision making.”

Pamela Mills, a campaigner who has raised concerns about Wokingham Borough Council’s decisions around summer-born children starting school earlier than their parents wish them to, spoke to the News about the impact of this.

She said: “Forcing summer-born children into school a year early often has very dire consequences in terms of performance, life success, self-esteem and mental health.

“The requirements are often impossible because they are not developmentally ready to be there.

Bracknell News:

“Currently it is a postcode lottery whether a summer-born child is allowed to wait until they are ready to start school - and at the moment Wokingham postcodes are some of the very worst to be in if you are a summer-born child.”

The LGO recommended WBC apologise to the family for failing to follow the correct decision-making process, to make the decision again in line with the admissions code and to issue correct guidance to staff.

Council bosses accepted the LGO’s recommendations but the family’s children have still not been guaranteed a place in reception just days before application deadlines close, and claim they have not received an apology from the authority.

Bracknell News:

The News understands the LGO has written to the council again to make a complaint about their handling of the twins’ case.

A spokesperson for WBC told the News: “We can confirm that all the requests for this academic year have been revisited, with decisions overturned where appropriate.

“A full apology has been sent to those families who experienced any uncertainty in relation to the initial decision, but as far as the local authority is concerned all ongoing complaints through the LGO have now been settled.

“Whilst we cannot guarantee the outcome of the allocation for those applicants who submit an “out of year request”, we wish to reassure families living both inside and outside of the local authority of Wokingham Borough Council’s continued commitment to support the education of their children.”