Education is compulsory - school is optional

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School Attendance Orders


This page contains information about the law in England. The information does not apply to Scotland, where the law is different from England.

Home educators in Wales should double check any differences between English and Welsh Guidelines.

Government Guidelines on School Attendance Orders may be found here. It is highly recommended that home educators read this booklet in order fully to understand the legal position.

Here are some extracts from the Government Guidelines on Attendance:

If it is not possible to persuade the parent to make suitable arrangements for their child's education, then the parent should be served with a notice stating that they are failing in their duty to provide their child with education. The notice must inform them that they must satisfy the authority that they are providing an education at school or otherwise within a specified time period (but not less than 15 days beginning with the day the notice was served).

Upon expiry of the notice the authority should write to the parent referring them ton the authority's intention to serve an SAO. The authority should inform the parent of schools that are suitable for the child to attend and should also inform the parent that they have the right to educate their child at home if they choose to. The parent should be told that they have 15 days in which to take action or the authority will proceed to make an SAO.

If the 15 days expire without the parent registering their child at school then the authority should issue an SAO. The Order should specify which school the child should attend and inform the parent that they have 15 days to comply.

If a parent on whom an SAO has been served fails to comply with the requirements of the Order they are guilty of an offence under Section 443 of the Education Act 1996, unless they prove that the child is receiving a suitable education otherwise than at school.

The case should be taken to the magistrates court where a summons can be obtained. The parent will be named on the summons and will have to appear before the Court or enter a guilty plea in writing.

The offence of failing to ensure regular school attendance

 There are two offences relating to parental responsibility for ensuring regular attendance at school or alternative provision: if a registered pupil is absent without authorisation from school or alternative provision then the parent is guilty of an offence under section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.

If the parent knows that his child is failing to attend regularly at the school and fails to cause him to do so he is guilty of an offence under section 444 (1A) of the Education Act 1996.

No offence is committed if the parent proves any of the following statutory grounds: [including]

If the child is receiving an education otherwise than by regular attendance at school (for example, by home education.)



Education Otherwise frequently receives enquiries from parents about home education, often relating to how they should engage with their local authority. This has been particularly concerning for parents since the publication of the Elective Home Education Departmental Guidance for Local Authorities (EHEDGLA), in April 2019.

Education Otherwise, in conjunction with the Centre for Personalised Education charity, has obtained advice from a Queen's Counsel (or QC, a title given to a senior barrister) in order to help us provide accurate information to parents. The QC we instructed specialises in public law and education law, and is a former part-time Chair of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, and a current member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission's panel of counsel. The QC also trains lawyers and others in education and public law.

Education Otherwise is revising its information in line with the advice received from the QC. The revised information will be posted on the website when ready. In the meantime, but also as a matter of good practice, parents should of course always obtain their own legal advice if they have concerns over any issues.