Starting School in Reception Year: Frequently Asked Questions

If you have a baby, toddler or preschooler, you’ll soon need to think about them starting school. The rules around starting school in England can be confusing at times, so today we take a look through commonly asked questions around the topic to clarify matters. For instance, at what age do children in England legally have to begin school? Is ‘Reception Year’ the same as Year 1 (no, by the way), and is attending Reception Class even compulsory? All these questions and many more are answered in today’s post. Click any question to reveal the answer.

Reception Year is the year most children in England, aged from 4 to 5, start school. It’s a kind of ‘in-between’ year, coming after nursery/pre-school, but before primary school ‘Year 1’. Although Reception Year takes place at primary school, it’s the final year of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and continues to use a primarily play-based learning approach. However, once Reception Year is complete, children move to Year 1 and begin the Key Stage 1 (KS1) curriculum, a more adult-led, formal learning approach by topic.

Reception Year is also referred to simply as ‘Reception‘ as well as being known as Year R, Year 0, or FS2 (for Foundation Second Year).

No — as outlined above, Reception Year is the year that precedes Year 1 so, numerically speaking, is Year 0 (see the question above for additional naming variants).

The general consensus is that children who attend school in Reception Year benefit hugely. Having attended Reception, reading, writing, numeracy, social skills and many other abilities will have improved. Studies show that longer-term academic outcomes, including GCSE grades, are improved. Even children’s likely earnings will be higher later on as adults — such is the positive effect of a good Reception Year education.

Attending school in Reception Year is not compulsory, but is a great way for children to transition from preschool to school and to gain extra teaching. As such, it is something that the UK Government’s Department of Education (DfE) believes children should not miss out on.

Children who go into Reception Year are usually aged between 4 and 5. However, there are occasional exceptions. An example would be where a child aged 5 has missed Reception – for whatever reason – and their parents have later made a successful application for their admission to Reception “outside of the normal age group”.

The law states that children reach Compulsory School Age on the earliest of the 31st of the August, December, or March which arrives on or after they reach the age of 5. They would then usually start school in the September term that follows (being the start of the nearest full school year).

That said, most children begin school earlier, at the age of 4, as we’ll see below.

Yes. Despite the compulsory school age for full-time education in England being five, most children actually start school at the age of four. The majority of them will start in ‘Reception Year’ in the September term that follows their fourth birthday. However, whilst still four, they can attend part-time, full-time, or even part of the way through the year. Indeed, some schools have a staggered system for 4-year-olds joining Reception Year, starting them part-time at first. Others, however, require full-time schooling right from the start.

Yes*, for what are known as ‘Summer born’ children. That’s if your child’s birthday falls somewhere during the period 1 April and 31 August and, for example, you feel they are not ready for the challenges of school while they’re still 4. In such a scenario, you can defer their start until they’re five — in accordance with Compulsory School Age rules outlined earlier. Learn more about delaying your child’s school start here.

* Different rules apply to children who are subject to an Educational, Health & Care (EHC) plan.

If your child doesn’t start school until they’re five, local authorities and schools will decide whether such children should start in Reception Year (a year later than most of their peers of the same age) or go straight into Year One with children of the same age. It all comes down to what they feel would be in the child’s best interests, taking into account any special circumstances or special needs. Parents can, however, make a request for such children to start school in Reception Year as opposed to Year 1 and this is known as ‘requesting admission out of the normal age group‘.

This is a tricky area because, on the one hand, the Government’s official view is: “… it is usually not in a child’s best interests to miss the teaching that takes place during the Reception Year, and … it should be rare for a child to start school in year 1.” However, on the other hand, the usual ‘default’ for children starting school at the age of 5, whose parents have not made a request for admission out of the normal age group, is that they would usually go straight into Year 1 — i.e. with children their own age.

Irrespective of whether your child begins school at the age of 4 or 5, you need to apply for a place when they are still 3, or at the very latest when they have just reached the age of 4. More details about applying for school places are available in this guide.

If you live in England*, your local authority is responsible for education in state-funded schools. Click here to find the right local authority for your area and then navigate to the relevant schools section of their website. This will contain a whole host of information usually including a school search function, term dates, eligibility requirements, how to apply for a school place, plus a wealth of additional school- and education-related information.

Try to visit any contenders — most will have open days. Also, check Ofsted reports and school performance tables and try to speak with parents whose children have attended to gain some insights.

* Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have different processes. ().

You can alternatively pay for your child’s education through a private (‘independent’) school by making enquiries directly with them. Research to find them online, try a search engine or ask around for recommendations.

Like state-funded schools, independent schools are also inspected and reports will be available through whichever organisation inspects them (about half of them are through Ofsted).

In many cases you can, if you so decide, teach your child at home instead of sending them to school. This is known as homeschooling or ‘Elective Home Education’ (EHE). If going this route, your child must be receiving a suitable, efficient, full-time education and be doing so from the age of five. You can home-school them full-time or educate them part-time at home and the other part at school, although some schools may not allow part-time school placements.

However, there are some scenarios where it’s not possible to home-school your child. Examples may include some children who are party to a ‘School Attendance Order‘, some children with SEN attending special schools, and children who have been deemed by the local authority not to be receiving suitable home education.

More information is available here.

By law, schools must publish certain information on their official websites and this includes a special educational needs (SEN) information report. This must explain their individual policies in regard to eligibility and arrangements for children who have special educational needs and disabilities.

If you would like to suggest any additional questions on the topics of starting school and Reception Year, please let us know using the middle button below; many thanks.

Little Cedars is a High-Quality Nursery in Streatham

Little Cedars Day Nursery provides first-class weekday childcare services in Streatham

Little Cedars is a nursery & preschool offering high-quality childcare in Streatham, near Tooting, Tooting Bec, Tooting Common, Tooting Broadway, Furzedown, Balham, Norbury and Colliers Wood.Ofsted rates Little Cedars Day Nursery as a Good ProviderLittle Cedars is a wonderful childcare nursery located in Streatham in London’s SW16 area. As you can see via the logo on the left, we are rated by Ofsted as a ‘Good Provider’, so you know your baby, toddler or preschooler will be in safe and caring hands. We’ll ensure they receive the very best care and an early years education that will help them become the very best version of themselves. In this way, they’ll be school-ready by the time they leave us to begin in Reception Year at primary school.

To further explore the chance of a childcare place for your child at Little Cedars Nursery, please get in touch using an option below:

Guide to National Offer Day for Primary School Admissions

What is National Offer Day in the UK?

National Offer Day is the day that parents receive confirmation of which school their child has been offered for the next academic year. For those with preschoolers who require primary school places starting in the September term, over 92% (2023: 92.5%) will typically get an offer from their first choice and over 98% (2023: 98.6%) usually receive an offer from a school within their top 3 choices. Out of 568,600 primary school applications made last year for the academic year 2023/24, only 8,000 (1.4%) didn’t receive offers for one of their preferred primary schools (statistics are lower for secondary school places).

In today’s guide, we outline how and when parents of under-fives should apply for primary school places, how places are allocated, what to expect on National Offer Day (a.k.a. Primary School Offer Day for preschoolers), and what your options are if you do not receive an offer for your preferred school.

When Will Your Child Receive Their Primary School Offer?

National Offer Day for primary school places falls on the 16th of April (for secondary school places it is the 1st of March). On the ‘offers’ day, those who applied for places online will receive an email* from their local council to confirm the offer. There are lots for the council to send out, so the time of day the email arrives with you will vary from location to location. Also note that, in years when those dates coincide with a Bank Holiday or a weekend, the offers will instead be sent during the next working day.

* Some local authorities also allow parents to view offers through the council’s admissions portal/system.

When is Compulsory School Age?

Although most children begin school in the September following their fourth birthday, they have the option to start a little later if preferred. Compulsory School Age, which is the age they must be when they begin full-time education by law, is whichever comes first of the 31st of December, March or August following their fifth birthday. In practice, though, most children in the UK begin school at the age of four and reach five during their first year at school.

When to Apply for Your Child’s Primary School Place

For primary school places, you must apply in advance when your child is 3 or has just turned 4 at the time of application, even for those wishing to start school later.

Applications for September Reception year primary or infant school places should usually be made no later than 15 January that year but can be made as early as September of the previous year.

Example:

For a child starting primary school at the age of 4 in September 2024, apply any time from 1 September 2023 to 15 January 2024.

‘In-Year’ Applications:

For one reason or another, for example after moving house, some families may have to apply for a primary school place for their child after the school year has started. Such ‘in-year’ applications will obviously not follow the usual dates outlined above and, once an offer has been received, the child will usually begin at the agreed primary school at the start of the next full term.

What If Your Application is Late?

“Your child is less likely to be offered a place at their chosen schools if you miss the deadline for applications.” (Gov.uk)

It’s worth noting that applications may not be processed until some time in May if they are received late. As May is long after the processing of all those that were received on time has occurred, the odds of getting a school place at your first choice are potentially reduced if you’re late. In other words, if you want to stand a better chance of getting your preferred school for your child, don’t be late with your application! Late applications may also require the use of a separate ‘late application’ form.

How & Where to Apply

Families should apply for school places for their children through their local council even if they are applying for a school in a different area. They should also still apply if they are applying for a school that’s linked directly to their child’s existing nursery/setting. When applying, you’ll be able to list your preferred schools in order and, subject to available places, this order will be taken into consideration when your application is being processed.

Applications for primary school places can be made online (start here) or via your council’s paper application form. Note, however, that those applying via a paper form may receive the outcome of their application a little later, probably via 2nd Class post, if they didn’t include an email address as part of their application.

Criteria for School Offers

As well as the timing criteria outlined above, other factors will influence how likely you are to receive an offer for your preferred primary school, although the exact factors vary from school to school. They may include how close your child lives to the preferred school, whether your child has a sibling there already, whether you as a parent have worked at the school for 2 or more years, whether it’s a faith school that matches your faith, plus other potential factors.

Accepting Offers for Primary School Places

Be warned that the offer you receive for your child’s primary school place will include a deadline and you will need to accept the offer by that deadline in order to secure your child’s place. If you do not accept it in time, the primary school place may instead be offered to another child.

What If Your Child Is Not Offered a Place at Your Preferred School?

For one reason or another, a small percentage of families (2023: 1.4%) will not receive an offer from a school within those they selected as ‘preferred’ during their application. If your local council is unable to offer your child a place at any of your preferred schools, the council will need to offer you a place at an alternative primary school. Usually, this will be the nearest primary school that has a place available.

Appealing Your Child’s Primary School Offer

If you do not receive an offer for one of your preferred schools for your child, you can appeal the decision if you so wish. The offer letter will give more details about how to do so. More information about the appeals process can be found here.

Note, however, that it may be wise to first accept the offer your child was originally given so that you have something to fall back on should your appeal be unsuccessful. Doing so does not, apparently, adversely affect your appeal. The same is true if you decide to ask to go on a waiting list for a preferred school, and we’ll come to that next.

Primary School Waiting Lists

In the unlikely event that no primary school place is available, or if you do not receive an offer at your preferred school for your child, you can apply for your child to be put on a waiting list. This would be done through your local council although you can also contact the school itself to enquire. Interestingly, you can also put your child’s name on a preferred school’s waiting list even if you have already received and accepted an offer elsewhere.

Good Luck!

We hope this guide has been useful and wish you good luck with your primary school applications. We hope that you receive the choices you hoped for once the primary school offers day arrives.

Little Cedars Nursery, Streatham

A High-Quality Nursery & Preschool in Streatham, near Tooting, Furzedown, Balham, Norbury & Colliers Wood

Little Cedars is a nursery & preschool offering high quality childcare in Streatham, near Tooting, Tooting Bec, Tooting Common, Tooting Broadway, Furzedown, Balham, Norbury and Colliers Wood.Ofsted rate Little Cedars Day Nursery as a Good ProviderLittle Cedars is a high-quality nursery and preschool in Streatham, SW16. Rated by Ofsted as a ‘Good Provider’ of early years childcare and education, children under our care receive a first-class start to life in our warm, loving, home-from-home environment. At Little Cedars, we bring out the best in every child to help them become school-ready by the time they leave us to begin school in their fifth year.

Get in touch today to learn more about a nursery place for your child at Little Cedars:

20 Ways to Prepare Children for School

A guide to the ways parents can help prepare under-5s for starting school in Reception Year at age 5.In a follow-up to last month’s post about transitioning under-fives to nursery or pre-school, we now outline 20 ways parents can help prepare children for starting school as they approach the age of five. We’ve broken this down into a list of 20 easy-to-action suggestions:

1. A Good Early Years Education

Our absolute topmost tip is to ensure that children attend a good nursery/pre-school well before the age of five. Study after study has shown that a good early years education gives little ones a massive head start in terms of school readiness, with long-term benefits continuing even into adulthood.

2. Help Learning at Home

Parental involvement with children's early years education has also been shown to boost achievement, morale, attitude, behaviour and social skills.Parental involvement with children’s early years education has also been shown to boost achievement, morale, attitude, behaviour and social skills enormously. These are all things that will help them to hit the ground running once they start school. Home learning is even more powerful when designed to synchronise with what children are learning at their early years setting or school (like a two-pronged approach).

3. Read With Them

Reading with children in their early years can help boost language skills by 8 months — before they're even five!Reading with children, well ahead of them beginning school, has also been shown to boost their language skills, incredibly by the equivalent of as much as 8 months before they’re even five! The key is to read with them; not just to them. Learn more about the benefits of reading with under-fives here.

4. Forewarn Them

Forewarning children that they will be starting school around the age of five is also a sensible thing to do. It should be mentioned multiple times before they reach the age of five, so children learn to expect and accept it. Just treat it as normal (which, of course, it is to you and I) and be enthusiastic about it.

5. Listen Up

Children will fit in better at school if they are well prepared for it.Listen to any reservations your child may have about the prospect of starting school. Listening is important, so be on the look-out for any concerns and reservations they may have.

6. Answer Questions

Try to read between the lines too, as they may not be able to fully articulate everything they’re feeling at such a young age. Answer any questions they may have about school and take time to ensure they understand the answers.

7. Reassure Them

At all times reassure children when discussing anything about starting school and life there once they’ve started. Put their minds at rest. Focus on the positives. Mention the many benefits of school, so they look forward to it rather than getting anxious about it. After all, it’s fun, educational, they will make lots of new friends and there will be lots of new equipment to play with — and so on. You can also mention your own positive memories of school so that they know you’ve been through it yourself.

8. Encourage Independence

Nurturing children's independence well ahead of them beginning school will really help them.Children will greatly benefit in Reception Year at school if they’re already independent when they start. So, nurturing aspects of their independence well ahead of them beginning school is a good policy. For example, ensuring they know how to independently look after personal hygiene, dress themselves, tie shoe laces, dress, use the toilet, pack their bag and so on. If they can do this before they start school, it will help them enormously.

9. Encourage Social Skills

Social skills are another thing to nurture in children well before they begin school. Communication skills will help them to get on. Good manners, politeness and knowing right from wrong will also help them fit in, make friends and be positively viewed from the ‘get go’.

10. Identify A Friend

Ensuring children know a friendly face when they begin school will help them settle in better.Parents/guardians will also be wise to identify one or more of their children’s friends (or potential friends) that will also be starting school at the same time. Ensure they meet up and play regularly, before they’ve started school. In this way, there will be a friendly face at the school from the moment they start. It’ll help them feel more at home and less alone.

11. Show Them a Prospectus/Brochure/Website

It’s also a wise idea for children to acquaint themselves as much as possible with their new school, before they actually start. Therefore, obtaining a prospectus, brochure and/or taking a good look at the school’s website together would be an excellent idea for children. It’ll really help them to know what to expect.

12. Visit Ahead of Starting

Even better is a physical visit. Schools will offer open days or one can usually be arranged for children and their parents. Having a tour will help children get to know their way around the school, see the facilities, ask questions and bring the school into much clearer focus for the child. It’ll make it more tangible and less of a daunting prospect for the child if they already know it. Seeing the facilities and equipment may even excite them.

13. Pre-Sync Children’s Body Clocks

Getting enough sleep is essential for children's success at school.Several weeks before they start school, children should start to synchronise their day with the timings of the new school day. This should include getting up time in the morning and ideally even timings for lunch and suchlike. In this way, children’s body clocks will have adjusted in good time, before they actually start.

14. Ensure They Get Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep is critically important for children. After all, they do not want to end up struggling to stay awake during their school lessons. Therefore setting a sensible bedtime — and sticking to it — is crucially important. A gradual wind-down towards bedtime will help them sleep well as will the avoidance of electronic screens in the run-up to bedtime.

15. Prepare Their Uniform/Clothing

Ensure that uniform, PE kit, stationery, lunch box & backpack etc. are all ready and labelled.Ensuring children have everything they need, at least a little ahead of starting in Reception, is a good approach. Check that you have all items of their uniform, PE kit, any stationery, lunch box if appropriate, backpack or bag and so on. Is everything marked with your child’s name? Usually it should be.

16. Do a Dummy School Run

Close to the time the child will start at their new school, it is a good idea for parents/guardians to do a dummy run to the school at the actual times the child will eventually be dropped off and picked up. In this way, parents/guardians can ensure that they won’t be late, which might otherwise cause more stress for both themselves and their child. It’s important for the first day, in particular, to be as stress-free as possible.

17. Help Them to Pre-Pack

Getting your child involved in actually packing their backpack or school bag (with supervision) will help them to acquaint themselves with everything in it. That way, if they need something when they’re at school, they’ll know they have it and where they can find it. Doing this the night before, with the exception of food if it needs to be kept refrigerated overnight, will mean there’s also less to do on Day One.

18. Be on Time On the Day

All this pre-planning should make it more likely that you’re on time at the school on the first day. That’s important, as a last-minute rush will only cause unnecessary stress for both you and your little one. So, ensure you leave for the journey in good time. And don’t be late at picking-up time!

19. Reassure & Don’t Fuss on the Day

If you’re anxious, stressed or sad on your child’s first day, don’t let on. It’s best to keep everything positive as far as your child is concerned. So, stay up-beat, calm and reassuring. As we said before, focus on the positives (“you’re going to have so much fun!” etc.) and it will all seem so much more ‘normal’ for your child — as normal as a walk in the park.

20. Ensure They Know Who Will Collect Them

Your child will need to know, ahead of time, who is collecting them.Your child will need to know, ahead of time, who is collecting them. If it’s not you, then they need to know clearly who it will be. They also need to be clear around their general safety rules, stranger danger and so on. Schools should also have safeguarding policies in place for unexpected scenarios. For example, if you are unexpectedly delayed and need to send someone else to collect your child, does the school have a password system in place to ensure that only the right person can collect your child? Find out.

Also, as a parent, you’ll need to ensure you have the requisite contact details for any relevant school personnel (e.g. the number of the main office/reception desk) in case you need to contact them for any reason. They must also have your number and any back-up contact details.

A Good Early Years Education at Little Cedars Nursery & Pre-school, Streatham

Little Cedars is a nursery & pre-school offering high quality childcare in Streatham, near Tooting, Tooting Bec, Tooting Common, Tooting Broadway, Furzedown, Balham, Norbury and Colliers Wood.Little Cedars Nursery in Streatham offers babies, toddlers and under-fives a really good early years education as part of its high quality childcare service. If you are looking for the best nurseries or pre-schools in the Streatham area, Little Cedars Nursery really should be on your short list. Children absolutely thrive at the setting, achieving personal bests in every area of the early years curriculum and becoming ‘ school ready’ by the time they leave us to move on to Reception at school. We offer outstandingly good childcare services in Streatham, near Streatham Hill, Streatham Park, Streatham Common and Furzedown and are convenient for those living or working in Tooting, Tooting Bec, Tooting Broadway, Tooting Common, Balham, Norbury and Colliers Wood. To arrange a visit, ask any questions or to apply for a place, please get in contact — simply choose a button below.