As a parent, it’s always great to hear that your child is doing well in primary school.
But what if they are doing so well that the school or headteacher suggests to you that they are qualified to move up to the year above?
At first glance, many parents consider the chance to accelerate their child a year to be a huge honour, but it’s generally not a good choice for the child in the longer term—and perhaps they don’t realise the trouble they are storing up for their child later on, especially as they enter secondary school.
It’s Normal for Primary Classes Include Students with a Wide Range of Abilities
In the average primary classroom, there is usually an ability spread of around 5 years. Some children are working up to 2 years above what’s expected in the national curriculum and others up to 2 years below the average.
Teachers are trained to manage such varied abilities and do it by differentiating the work they set in class. It is pretty normal for a child to be working at a higher level and the teacher should enjoy challenging them with extension work and other activities that extend their learning.
If you feel that your child isn’t being sufficiently challenged in school, you could also consider signing them up for stimulating extracurricular activities, like piano lessons or learning a new language.
Moving Up a Year: Academic vs. Social & Emotional Development
When children do move up a year, the problems that crop up later typically aren’t that they have missed out on learning key information. It’s more that they struggle to keep up with their peer group in social, physical, and emotional development. These differences aren’t so noticeable in primary classrooms. They tend to show up later on, around puberty and beyond.
A child moved up a year will only be average academically in the new year group and loses so much by being lifted out of their peer group entirely.
Secondary School Transfer: The Prospect of Repeating Year 6
In the UK, there is also the specific problem of secondary transfer. Few parents want their child to repeat year 6 and wait to go to secondary school. The 11+ is only sat by children who fit into a particular age bracket. Some secondary schools are unwilling to take a child a year too young (citing the common social and emotional development issues above), or maybe even be prevented from even considering admittance for your child a year early by their own school admissions criteria.
Might You Be Moving to a New School in the Future?
When changing schools there is sometimes an opportunity to apply for your child to be admitted to a year that’s not the usual one (in the technical lingo, they call this “admission out of chronological age.”) There’s no assurance, however, that if you moved and decided to attend a new school that the new school would agree to place your child in the accelerated year.
Years ago, I taught a great girl who was too young in year 6. I persuaded her parents to repeat that year and to allow her friends to move on to secondary school without her. It was a tough decision for them because at the time she was utterly comfortable in that social group and it was tough to see all her friends leave for secondary school without her—but in that older grouping she worked well, but wasn’t exactly flying.
That following year allowed us both such a fantastic opportunity to extend and polish her skills and take her attainment to another level. From then she never looked back.
No one wants their child to be a social misfit, slightly out of place in a year group. It is wonderful—flattering really—to hear that your child is doing so impressively well that they would cope well in an older grouping. But I urge you to put the idea to one side, and to challenge the school to address your child’s needs within his or her own year group. Except in very exceptional cases, this is the route which will truly serve your child best in the long term.