School Attendance

Under UK Law, children must start full-time education once they reach compulsory school age. This is on 31 December, 31 March or 31 August following their fifth birthday – whichever comes first. If your child’s fifth birthday is on one of those dates then they reach compulsory school age on that date. In England a young person can leave* full-time education on the last Friday in June if they will be 16 by the end of the summer holidays.

*However, they must then do one of the following until they’re 18:

  • Stay in full-time education, for example at a college or sixth form
  • Start an apprenticeship, traineeship or supported internship
  • spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training

Is attendance at school compulsory? (Click to expand)

Not necessarily. Although the term is ‘compulsory school age’, this does not mean that education must be received through attendance at a school.

Parent/carers (not the LA) are responsible for ensuring that their child, if he or she is of compulsory school age, is suitably educated. This can be done by educating them themselves, organising someone else to educate them, or requesting the local authority to organise a mainstream school placement.

If the latter, it is the LA not the parent/carer who is then obliged to find a setting – or make alternative arrangements for your child to be educated. However, even if the LA are responsible for finding a school place, parent/carers remain responsible for ensuring their child attends where possible (we will look at the obstacles to this in more detail over our other pages)

What do we mean by suitably educated? (Click to expand)

As mentioned above, education should be suitable for the child.

The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient1 full-time2 education suitable –

  • (a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and
  • (b) to any special educational needs he may have,
  • either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

Section 7 Education Act 1996

For education to be suitable, it must consider a child’s SEND, as well as their age, ability and aptitude towards learning. This may or may not mean regular attendance at school. The Education Act also mentions efficient and full time education. Click on the questions below to find out more.

1 What is ‘efficient’ education?

There is no lawful definition of ‘efficient’ education. However, it can be interpreted as meaning education which ‘achieves what it is intended to achieve’. This is not the same as the education being ‘suitable’ – because it is possible to deliver efficiently an education which is definitely not suitable for the child. Conversely, it is possible to deliver a suitable education very inefficiently.

2What is a ‘full-time’ education?

There is also no legal definition of “full-time” in terms of education at home, or at school. Children attending school normally have about five hours tuition a day for 190 days a year, spread over about 38 weeks. The Local Government Ombudsman’s view is that it is commonly held to be equivalent to between 22 and 25 hours a week. However they do consider that one to one tuition is worth more than provision delivered in a group or class, so it will vary depending on the type of education a child is receiving.

For those over 16, the definition of full-time participation is at least 540 hours a year; which is around 18 hours per week.

For those over 16 years old (Click to expand)

Once a young person is no longer considered ‘compulsory school age’, the legal requirement to participate is on the young person, not the parent/carer. Enforcement does not form part of the current law and therefore young people will not receive a sanction for non-participation.

However the LA still has certain broad duties to encourage, enable and assist young people, between the ages of 16-18, to participate in education, employment or training. They are expected to:

  • collect information about young people in their area who are not participating and to target their resources on those who require them most.
  • liaise with education providers to identify children under the age of 16 years old who are at risk of not participating post-16 and for intensive support to be provided to remedy the situation. This is particularly important in relation to children with SEND who are significantly less likely to participate post-16 in comparison to their peers without SEND.

When might a child not attend school (Click to expand)

Apart from ‘school holidays’, there may be other times when a child or young person is not able to attend school. These may be:

  • They are not well enough to attend (either full time, or can only attend part time). This could be physical OR Mental Health illness.
  • School have given advanced permission for you to take them out of school (for example to attend appointments or for exceptional circumstances). Please note: You can be fined for taking your child on holiday during term time without the school’s permission.
  • When they are issued fixed term or permanent exclusions.

For more specific information about these, please click on the topics below:

Picture of a calendar with a date circled

Reduced timetables and when they should be considered?

A look at the different sanctions schools can use including exclusions

School Admissions

******Coming Soon******

A look at how health needs should be supported.

Education – Otherwise at school (including Home Ed)

*******Coming Soon******