Education Quandary

'We have been living abroad, where our daughter has always been old for her year group. But the school she is going to in September says that she must join her proper age group in Year 10 - and take her GCSEs in one year'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Hilary's advice

First of all, if your daughter goes into Year 10, as you say she will have to, she will not have to take her GCSEs in a year, but be able to follow the full two-year GCSE programme. Second, there is a good reason why pupils should be in their right age group. School is a social as well as an academic experience, children change hugely every year, and it generally works better for them to be with their peers.

However, this school is almost certainly not thinking about your daughter's welfare, but the health of its league tables. A secondary school's GCSE performance is dragged down by out-of-year pupils, because any child of the right age not taking GCSEs counts as a zero.

This recently prompted a full-scale fight in Barnet, north London, where about 500 children are going through school in a class too young for their age group. These are generally children who have been held back in nursery because of confidence or learning difficulties (although some suspect that, just occasionally, it is from the desire to give a child the educational edge later on). But heads, under pressure to get good league table results, were said to be putting pressure on parents to agree to their children skipping the first year of secondary school to get back on track.

A working party has just finished examining the issue, and has decided that while the borough's policy remains that children should go through school in their own age group, heads need to take individual circumstances into account when making decisions.

In your daughter's case, the school should certainly agree to let her stay in the year group she is used to. The poor girl is going to have enough of a culture shock as it is, without having to miss a whole year of the unfamiliar British curriculum, and be thrown in with pupils who are substantially older than the ones she is used to.

Press your case with the school. If you get no joy there, go to the school governors, and then the local education authority. If this school is not itself in Barnet, tell them about the Barnet experience and its outcome.

Readers' advice

Like your daughter, I came back to England out of my proper year. I had a year at one school in the same class, then moved to another school which made me jump up from Year 8 to Year 9. I was worried about missing so much work, but it wasn't a problem. It was also great being back with my own age group. I hadn't realised it, but I had been "holding myself down" to fit in with the younger year.
Jake Ecclesborne, Brighton

I have taught several children in your daughter's position, and my experience is that skipping a year is no problem provided that the child comes from a country where the schooling is broadly similar to ours - such as Canada, Australia or New Zealand, for example - and that he or she has no educational problems, or that it happens before the exam years start. It is very different if you have a child without English, or with some other problem. However, you must make sure the school is prepared to help her make up any ground she is missing. And she should have a personal tutor, or a home class teacher, whom she can go to with any problems that she encounters.
Carol Bond, Northamptonshire

She should be allowed to stay in the same year. The school is only doing this because it wants to protect its GCSE results. You must argue for what you want, and take it up with your local councillors and MP if the school won't budge. We can't let league-tables rule come before children.
Gina Roberts, London SE21

Next week's quandary

Now my children are older, I am thinking of going back to work. I would like to do something with children, but I don't want to become a teacher. I used to work in social services and someone told me I would make a good mentor, but what do they do, and is it a proper career?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 2 August, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser