2 September 2009

A day is a long time in schooling

Two old school pals of mine, twin lads Andrew and Robert, celebrated their birthdays yesterday. They were, therefore, the eldest in my year.

The threshold you cross between August and September if you have a child due has always fascinated me. Had these two esteemed lads popped into the world earlier by a day, or even a few hours or minutes, they would have started school three months earlier and, more to the point, finished school a whole year earlier.

There was an article on the BBC website on August 31st claiming that these days parents-to-be at this time of year want to hang on, if possible, until September before bearing their new child as it offers greater advantages in the new arrival's future education.

I suspect a generation and more ago, parents-to-be were hoping for an appearance in August just so the youngster would be out of their hair and in school, and later in work, much quicker...

Andrew and Robert would have gone to their local infant school in September 1977, along with all other kids in their village born in the autumn section of 1972. A child born almost exactly a year later would have not walked into the same school until after the Easter holidays the following year, and yet within 18 months they would have been sharing a class, learning the same things and deemed to be the same age and same year.

I was born in May, so I was one of the summer kids, albeit in an adjacent village, who registered for school for the first time after the 1978 Easter holidays. My summer lot were joined by the next batch in September 1978, who eventually ended up as the year below me at school. And so on. What I do know is that by September 1979, I was in the same class as the Andrews and Roberts of my school, despite spending eight months fewer than them in school.

What do the September-December kids do while they're waiting for the rest of us to catch up? Colouring in? Extra gym? My first full year at school involved lots of reading, some sticking together of cereal boxes with glue and lots of time in the sandpit, plus hymn singing. That's kind of it. Did the elder kids than me do an extra eight months of this?

Maybe there is an argument for being born in August after all. I'm assuming that, unlike the House of Lords, an accident of birth that makes you the eldest doesn't offer you special advantages here. When the May-August kids, including me, joined up with the veteran September-December kids (and the ones in between), everyone seemed pretty equal. That could mean that the extra months at school undertaken by the autumn-born children is a fantastic waste of time.

I have one other question, one which I'm sure must have been in Notes & Queries at some point. If Andrew and Robert had been born ten minutes apart but either side of midnight (let's say Andrew at 11.57pm on August 31st, Robert at 12.07am on September 1st) would they have gone to school separately? Would they have been twins divided by the state? Would they even have technically been twins?


Simon said...

Good questions, not that I can answer them. I do recall the register throughout primary school being in birthday rather than alphabetical order (and the previous first on the list being much put out when we moved up to secondary school and I started coming before him when names were called). There were no other real issues in my year, but there were a couple of girls a year or two below who were both on the aug/sep cusp that ended up being held back a year when it became apparent they weren't keeping up with their peers.

Matthew Rudd said...

Once the school year settled down in third year infants, the only concession to age came with the splitting of the two classes. It was September to January kids in one class, and February to August in the other. Given that the two classes did the same work and often mixed, I've no idea why it was separated as such. Once we reached juniors, no further age-based allocations were made.

Jo said...

School years are always a tricky subject but unfortunately the state has to have a cut off and thats 31st August! Therefore if twins are split between Aug & Sept then they'd be split between year groups! Bizarre I know but its one of those things the student database couldn't cope with otherwise lol!! I've never come across that one though thankfully because as a parent I wouldnt be happy about it! I wonder if hospitals are wise to this and adjust the time of birth to get around it?!!

Most schools now are moving to one intake a year to get away from the xmas and easter groups and I think this is better for the children. Reception year still includes a lot of play but the work is mixed in in such a way its enjoyable rather than just sat behind a desk. Lets face it most children now go to nursery anyway due to working parents so they're used to the regime of full days so the transition is easy.

It has to be said though being a parent of a boy who is only just 3 years its hard to come to terms with the fact that he'll be at school next September. They grow up so fast!

JM said...

Just back from hols so playing catch-up, and quite a coincidence that you should have posted this on September 2nd given that this was my own birthday (and indeed will be again next year).

I never really got my head around how it was supposed to work, other than that I started my original school in Halesowen, Birmingham a few days after my 5th birthday in September 1978. We were indeed joined in subsequent terms by later intakes, classmates I left behind when along with several others I moved up to the next class down the corridor.

The class mixed two year groups, so a few weeks in the teacher was going down the register and asking each of us to clarify which one we were in - classifying us all as "third or fourth year", to my utter confusion as I knew full well that this was my second year at school and was unable to comprehend how I could be judged to be otherwise.

I never stayed long enough to find out, the family moving during the half term week that October to the small Yorkshire village I regard as my childhood home. There the small school simply had three infant years and four junior years, and I was placed by mutual consent in the third year infant class. I was instantly the youngest in that group and so had to sit and watch as everyone else celebrated a birthday and got to move their picture from the "6" to the "7" column on the big wallchart.

The only remaining consequence came at the end of fourth year juniors and when it came time to apply to secondary schools - all of which insisted their intake had turned 11 by the 31st August of the year in question. I thus had to be treated as a special case, involving primary school references and what I later realised was a one-on-one interview with the head of year who came to visit me at school.

Thus I was accepted and spent the rest of my education effectively a year ahead of myself, going to university weeks after turning 18 and still being just 20 at graduation. I can't help but wonder what would have happened if I had been rejected for advanced promotion to secondary school. Repeat the last year of primary again?

Incidentally the son of my Godfather (almost the same age as me) spent his secondary education deliberately a year behind. His father was appointed head of a large secondary school in Bristol in the year he turned 11, but they decided it would be unfair to parachute him straight into the secondary school as not only the new boy but also the new headmaster's son. So he spent a year in the top class at the village primary and went to the high school as a 12 year old.