Legislation allows a parent/guardian to request to defer their child starting pre-school and primary school by one year.
What does deferral mean?
Deferral means delaying starting Primary 1 or Pre-School for one year from September 2024 to September 2025.
If you delay your child from starting Pre-School your child would then in turn delay starting primary school until September 2026. This would mean your child would start pre-school aged 4 and primary school (P1) aged 5.
If you delay your child from starting Primary 1 your child would then in turn delay starting primary school until September 2025. This would mean your child would start primary school (P1) aged 5.
Your child would then (unless in very unusual circumstances such as serious illness) remain within the relevant year group as above throughout their time at school.
Children who defer will transfer to post-primary school in September following their 12th birthday and complete compulsory education (Year 12) in the year they turn 17, though they may of course continue to sixth form (Year 14).
Who is eligible to defer?
Children are eligible for deferral if they were born on or between 1 April – 1 July (inclusive) and also children who were due to be born on or between those dates but were born early.
For the School Year September 2024 – June 2025 the dates of birth are:
- Deferring P1 - Children born on or between 1 April 2020 and 1 July 2020. Any child who was born before 1 April 2020 but who was due to be born on or after 1 April 2020 if born at term.
- Deferring Pre-School (Target Year) – Children born on or between 1 April 2021 and 1 July 2021. Any child who was born before 1 April 2021 but who was due to be born on or after 1 April 2021 if born at term.
FAQs - Deferral of School Starting Age
In Northern Ireland children start primary school in September if they are 4 years old by 1 July of that year. Children born in July, August and September are the oldest in the school year group whereas those born in April, May and June are the youngest. These younger children are sometimes called Young for Year children.
The School Age (NI) Act became law in Northern Ireland on 28 April 2022. The legislation allows a parent to request their child to defer entry to compulsory schooling (P1) by a year. In order to ensure continuity for children whose parents decide to defer their child, a parent can also defer their child’s entry to funded pre-school education.
It will also allow children born early, who would have been born on or after 1 April, if born at term, to defer. There is no requirement for any child deferring P1 to receive home education during that year.
The majority of parents of eligible children will not choose deferral for their child. The EA Connect Portal opens on Thursday 27 April 2023 for Stage 2 of the Pre-School Admissions Procedure and new applications for Primary 1 for September 2023 admission.
For most children, deferral is not necessary or recommended.
However, if you have concerns about your child’s development, you are strongly encouraged to speak to your GP or Health Visitor to discuss your concerns. In September 2023, the majority of children born on or between 1 April 2019 and 1 July 2019 will continue to start primary school or children born on or between 1 April 2020 and 1 July 2020 will start pre-school.
In making your decision about deferral, it is important to remember that the majority of children regardless of their age within the year group thrive at pre-school or primary school and we have excellent pre-schools and primary schools in Northern Ireland.
At both pre-school and in Primary 1 and 2 years of education, (primary years are called the Foundation Stage), enable children to learn through well-planned, challenging play, recognising that all young children learn best when learning is interactive, practical and enjoyable. Please also be assured that children start pre-school or primary school with a whole range of abilities and at different levels of maturity. Children learn at their own pace and pre-school educators and teachers are trained to adapt the school day and all activities and learning to meet a range of children’s needs, including those who are the youngest children in the year group.
If you do not have significant concerns about your child starting pre-school or primary school, it is unlikely that deferral is the best option for them.
No, deferral is a matter of parental choice and no educational assessment is required. However, if you have concerns about your child’s development, you are strongly encouraged to speak to your GP or Health Visitor to discuss your concerns.
Do I have to provide medical evidence to confirm my child was born earlier than their expected due date?
Medical evidence is ONLY required for any child who was born before 1 April but who was due to be born on or after 1 April if born at term. If you decide to defer your child from attending in September 2023 and you complete a deferral request form, the Education Authority will contact you by email to advise how you can provide the relevant medical evidence. (A deferral request form will be available on the EA website on 10 January 2023).
Recommended medical evidence can include one of the following:-
Evidence must clearly show the child's name, expected due date and actual date your child was born (the information provided will only be held by the Education Authority for the purposes of processing this request).
Personal Child Health Record (Red Book); or
Letter or any other evidence from GP, Midwife or Health Visitor or any other Health Professional involved with your child; or
Maternity Certificate (MAT B1).
NB: You do not need to provide all pages of any medical evidence held - You ONLY need to take a photo image of medical evidence that shows the child’s name, expected due date and actual date your child was born.
If your child is known to Special Education and going through the Statutory Assessment process the option to defer your child would also be available to you to consider if you so wish. A statutory assessment may not necessarily lead to a statement of special educational needs so normal admissions processes apply.
If your child has a statement or receives a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN 3), staff from your local Special Education Office will be in contact with you about your child’s placement. If you require any further information contact numbers for Special Education can be found on the EA website here or by calling the SEN Helpdesk on 028 9598 5960 (available Monday - Friday 9am–5pm).
A child will usually remain in the year group to which they have been admitted throughout their time at school.
However, in a small number of cases a school’s Board of Governors may move a child into another year group if it believes that would be beneficial for the child. In doing so the Board of Governors must take into account the views of the parent/guardian, as well as those of the school’s principal and the Education Authority.
There is not an automatic entitlement to more than one year in a government funded pre-school. However, you will have the opportunity to apply for a funded year of pre-school when Stage 2 of the pre-school admissions procedure commences on 27 April 2023. Visit EA Admissions at that time for further information.
If you defer your child from starting P1 and your child has attended or is currently attending pre-school as a target aged child, your application for a funded pre-school place will not be considered until Stage 2 of the Pre-School Admissions procedure commences (i.e. 27 April 2023). This is because, children can only be prioritised as ‘target age’ for a funded pre-school place once.
Your child will not commence P1 until September 2024. You can make an application for a funded pre-school place in September 2023 on the EA Connect Portal which is now open for Stage 2 applications from 27 April 2023 to 4pm on 5 May 2023. Further information and a list of Pre-schools with places available can now be viewed on the EA Website Applying for a Pre-school Place
When the P1 application process commences for September 2024 you would submit an application for your child to commence P1 through the normal admission process.
Applications to P1 for deferred children will not receive a higher priority for September 2024 admission, but will be treated in the same manner as all children of compulsory school age who are applying.
If you have any additional queries please contact our Admissions Helpdesk.