PARENTS

Don't Write My Child Off Because He's An August Baby

01/11/2011 16:26 | Updated 22 May 2015
Child painting: Don't write my child off because he's an August babyCorbis

My son is four years old. Compared to his classmates, he struggles with his language, has great difficulty using a pencil, and barely knows the alphabet.

Whilst the other children in his class take home stick drawings of their mums and dads to show their parents, my boy comes home with some crumpled paper bearing the aftermath of an explosion in a Magic Marker factory.

But the other – and perhaps, crucial – difference between my son and his peers is that he is an August baby, by far and away the youngest in his class. And it worries me.

According to research published today, August-born children are significantly disadvantaged for the school years and beyond because they are in a constant state of catch-up with their classmates. They have little hope of ever being top of the class because their peers are anything up to 11 months older than them. For a four year old in Reception, that's pretty much a quarter of their entire lives.

This disparity impacts on every area of their time in education: at primary school, because they're little, they're more likely to be bullied; they're less likely to feel confident about their academic ability; and when they get to sit exams, 12 per cent less likely than September-born boys to get good GCSEs, and girls are nine per cent less likely.

And when they reach 16, August-born children are 20 per cent less likely to go to university, opting to learn a trade instead.

Because of this, said the report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, August teenagers are more inclined to smoke, binge drink and take cannabis.

Claire Crawford, co-author of the report, said children face a penalty 'simply because they are unlucky enough to have been born late in the school year'.

Wow! What a damning indictment of my August 9th-born son. How can I can put him out of his misery now?

But to be serious, I can see that disadvantage first-hand from my son's experience. The older children in his class are always at the front with their hands up, articulating questions, curious and attentive. My lad sits at the back of the carpet, looking around the room, disengaged, bored. I believe he's an intelligent boy, because when I do things one-to-one with him, like reading stories and drawing, he is very responsive. But in the classroom environment, he just seems to vanish into thin air. Small, quiet, insignificant. How is a teacher with 25 demanding children supposed to notice him and his needs?

I've spoken to her about it, and she says the same thing: 'He'll catch up.'

Not according to the ISF report. Its message to parents of August children is: 'You're all doomed.' But it does suggest a way forward. It says the youngest kids in the class could spend a year longer at school or sit tests when they are deemed ready, or have their test scores age-adjusted.

The proposals would end the arbitrary system which expects pupils to read academic levels by the end of a 'key stage' at school. Instead, they would be expected to achieve those levels by a certain age.

My own personal reaction to my son's age disadvantage is to spend more time with him, working on his reading, penmanship and numbers. I see him make progress, but then I worried it gets lost in the chaos of the classroom where I've seen with my own eyes him get overlooked.

So is he, and other August babies, doomed to a life of chain-smoking, binge-drinking, academic failure?

Well, I can't accept that, obviously, so I went online and found some high-achievers who managed to reach the dizzy heights despite the disadvantage of being born in August. Amongst hundreds of others, were the names director Sam Mendes, President Barack Obama, ex president Bill Clinton, artist Andy Warhol, tennis players Roger Federer and Pete Sampras, ex president Bill Clinton and Madonna.

But my favourite of all is Neil Armstrong (birthday, August 5th) – the first man on the Moon. What higher ambition could an August-born baby have than that! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, you September lot!

Do you have an August child? Have they suffered as a result of being the youngest in their year group?

Are you an August baby? Has it affected you?

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