SCHOOL admissions rules are "flawed" and must be changed to give summer-born children the right to start in reception at the age of five, Schools Minister Nick Gibb has said.

Children usually start school in the September after they turn four, but parents of children born between April 1 and August 31 can ask to delay entry to reception for a year.

Schools and councils, which are responsible for admissions, often say summer-born pupils must go straight into year one and miss out on the reception year altogether - and as a result, parents can feel pressured to send their child to school before they are ready.

Mr Gibb said children should not be forced to go straight into year one if they wait to start school until they turn five. Some can also be later made to miss a year and move up against their wishes.

He has written an open letter to encourage schools and local authorities to take immediate action in advance of the proposed changes.

"The code (School Admissions Code) requires the admission authority to make a decision on the basis of the circumstances of the case and in the best interests of the child," he wrote.

"It is clear, however, that this system is flawed, with parents and admission authorities often failing to agree on what is in the child's best interests."

He said the number of parents who request their child is admitted out of their normal age group is small, "but for these parents the issue will have serious implications".

"It also takes up a disproportionate amount of time for the local authorities and schools concerned," he added.

The code currently requires the admission authority to make a decision on the year group a summer-born five-year-old should be admitted to on the basis of the circumstances of the case and in the best interests of the child.

Parents also have the right to send their child to school on a part-time basis before they reach the compulsory school age.

Mr Gibb added: "Parents know their children best and we want to make sure summer-born children can start reception at the age of five, if their parents think it is in their best interests.

"We are going to make changes to admission rules - but we want councils and academies to take immediate action."

A consultation will now be carried out now and the reforms will have to be approved by Parliament.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "ATL has consistently argued that early years education needs to be flexible enough to support all children to succeed regardless of the age at which they start school. Although some parents will want to delay the start of school for their child, today's announcement will not solve the problems.

"International research indicates that expecting children to follow an overly formal, narrow academic curriculum at too young an age is counter-productive and damaging to their learning.

"The increasingly formalised national curriculum and assessment in the crucial first few years of school are the main reasons many parents want to delay the start of school for their summer-born children, so we urge Nick Gibb to modify these to address parental anxieties.

"ATL believes there should be a local partnership approach, with schools working closely with early education and care providers to develop staged transitions to school."

Education experts also gave their opinion on summer-born children compared with those with birthdays during the rest of the year.

Claire Crawford, assistant professor of economics at Warwick University, said: "Our research suggests that it is the age at which children sit their exams that largely determines why summer-born children perform more poorly in national achievement tests, on average, than autumn-born children.

"Accounting for a child's age when calculating their grades would solve this problem, but greater flexibility in school starting dates will not. While it is clearly advantageous for the existing rules to be applied consistently throughout the country, the evidence does not suggest that this will 'level the playing field' for summer-born children."

David Whitebread, senior lecturer in the psychology of education at the University of Cambridge, said: "It is quite clear that the extent of the summer-born effect is more severe in the UK than in many other countries, and the evidence suggests this arises from the young age at which children here start school.

"When a child starts in the reception class of a primary school they can be as young as four years and one day old, a whole year younger than the statutory school starting age, and two or three years younger than the school starting age in all other European countries with the exception of Malta."