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Deferred entry to school welcomed by Caithness councillor

By Jean Gunn

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A CAITHNESS councillor has welcomed Highland Council's decision to allow families an extra year's nursery education funding if they choose to defer their child's entry to primary school.

Wick and East Caithness councillor Nicola Sinclair, who has actively lobbied on the issue, said: "Childhood is short, and we want our children to not just cope at school but thrive. This is great news for Highland parents. I hope other local authorities will follow suit."

The decision was made at a meeting of the council's care, learning and housing committee in Inverness on Thursday, and is in line with new Scottish Government guidance for parents and carers following on from the Give Them Time campaign.

Councillor Sinclair explained that children who are not quite five at the start of the school year now have a legal right to an extra year at nursery and can defer entry to school. Previously this extra year at nursery was not automatically funded.

Highland Council, like many other authorities, tended to only offer funding for children born after January, meaning parents of children who would turn five between August and December had to battle for the extra year.

"Deferred entry is a subject really close to my heart, not only as a councillor but also as mum to a child who benefited from the extra year at nursery," Councillor Sinclair said.

"Last year a number of parents contacted me about this issue and I successfully lobbied for their children to defer entry to school. I fully support the aims of the Give Them Time campaign and raised the issue both at care, learning and housing committee and behind the scenes in meetings with officers.

"I am absolutely thrilled that the Scottish Government has addressed the loophole in funding for deferred entry, and that Highland Council has embraced the opportunity this presents.

"Children develop at very different rates and their date of birth is a totally arbitrary measure of their readiness for school. This new policy provides flexibility in meeting the individual needs of each child, and the decision will be made by the people who know them best – their parents and their school."

The government guidance – set out in the document Guidance on Being Educated Outwith the Peer Group Including Deferred and Early Entry to School – has been approved by members of the committee subject to some additional conditions.

Parents and carers who wish to apply for deferred entry, or early entry of their child (or children) to a school in Highland, will be directed to the new guidance for their information and direction on the processes required for application.

Nicky Grant, interim head of education, said: “Parents are best placed to know their young children’s needs and capabilities and we will work with them using the guidance to support them in their decisions.

“The guidance details an agreed process for parents and staff to follow when consideration is being given to a pupil being educated outwith their peer group.

“Applications for deferred or early entry to school can sometimes be complex and contentious and the agreed guidance will help direct all those involved in young people’s education in the region.”

The Give Them Time campaign was launched in October 2018 aiming to achieve “a more transparent, consistent and child-centred approach to considering funding requests for an extra year of nursery for a child who has a legal right to be deferred”.

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