Saturday, 30 June 2012

Mothers who fib

If any of my descendents investigate my life through the School Admission Register, they will believe that I was born in January rather than February. This is not an "error" in the Register but rather a deliberate deception to subvert the school enrolment system.

Like most Australian states, Queensland had (and still has) a single entry system. On a particular date each year, all those children deemed to be old enough begin schooling and those who have not reached the magic age must wait for another year. It does not really matter what date is selected, there will always be groups of children either advantaged or disadvantaged by being required to start schooling "early" or "late".

I recent times, it has been not uncommon to argue that some children who have reached the legislated age are not yet ready for formal lessons. In the 1950s you were more likely to hear "I'm not keeping him at home for another year."

In my case, my actual birthday missed the cut-off by a few weeks, but my sister was 13 months old and making unreasonable demands on my mother's time that I was used to commanding. In addition, my kindergarten had apparently indicated that they would not disappointed if I did not return.

So Mum lied about my date of birth! In those days, a Birth Certificate or other documentary proof was not required. The word of a responsible parent was good enough.

As result, I began school at 4 years 11 months (although the Register shows 5-0) and 12 years later began my University education before my seventeenth birthday.

How could such a thing happen in the law-abiding, conservative 1950s? Surely respect for the proper authorities ought to have prevented such irresponsible behaviour.

However, I need to remember that not 20 years earlier, my father had lied about his own age (by rather more than my one month) in order to join the Navy. It must have seemed a small thing to get me off to school early. And if it were found out, who would condemn him. After all, almost everyone knew someone who put their age up to enlist between 1939 and 1945.

All of which prompts me to wonder "How common was it for other parents to adjust their child's date of birth?". I knew of one other case in my school year because David and I shared birthdays (both actual and according to the official record), but never suspected that there may be others.

Data from the School Admission Register allow me to investigate the question. The following plot shows the frequency of birth date by month.

The first column (February births) shows the number of children kept waiting for a year to begin school. The last column (January) shows those who just sneak into the current enrolment by accident of birth or by parental connivance.

Now in a sample size of only 101, we should not expect to find an even distrubution throughout the year. But how likely is 7 times more births in January than February? The disparity is large enough that I can confidently claim that mine was not the only mother who fibbed!

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