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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.)



School Attendance Orders: Government Guidelines on Home Education

The following paragraphs about School Attendance Orders are taken directly from the Government's Elective Home Education Guidelines for England.

2.6 Local authorities have a statutory duty under section 436A of the Education Act 1996, inserted by the Education and Inspections Act 2006, to make arrangements to enable them to establish the identities, so far as it is possible to do so, of children in their area who are not receiving a suitable education."

2.7 Local authorities have no statutory duties in relation to monitoring the quality of home education on a routine basis.

However, under Section 437(1) of the Education Act 1996, local authorities shall intervene if it appears that parents are not providing a suitable education. This section states that:

If it appears to a local education authority that a child of compulsory school age in their area is not receiving suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise, they shall serve a notice in writing on the parent requiring him to satisfy them within the period specified in the notice that the child is receiving such education.

Section 437(2) of the Act provides that the period shall not be less than 15 days beginning with the day on which the notice is served.

2.8 Prior to serving a notice under section 437(1), local authorities are encouraged to address the situation informally. The most obvious course of action if the local authority has information that makes it appear that parents are not providing a suitable education, would be to ask parents for further information about the education they are providing. Such a request is not the same as a notice under section 437(1), and is not necessarily a precursor for formal procedures. Parents are under no duty to respond to such enquiries, but it would be sensible for them to do so.

2.9 Section 437(3) refers to the serving of school attendance orders:

    If –

    (a) a parent on whom a notice has been served under subsection (1) fails to satisfy the local education authority, within the period specified in the notice, that the child is receiving suitable education, and

    (b) in the opinion of the authority it is expedient that the child should attend school, the authority shall serve on the parent an order (referred to in this Act as a "school attendance order"), in such form as may be prescribed, requiring him to cause the child to become a registered pupil at a school named in the order.

    2.10 "A school attendance order should be served after all reasonable steps have been taken to try to resolve the situation. At any stage following the issue of the Order, parents may present evidence to the local authority that they are now providing an appropriate education and apply to have the Order revoked. If the local authority refuses to revoke the Order, parents can choose to refer the matter to the Secretary of State. If the local authority prosecutes the parents for not complying with the Order, then it will be for a court to decide whether or not the education being provided is suitable and efficient. The court can revoke the Order if it is satisfied that the parent is fulfilling his or her duty. It can also revoke the Order where it imposes an education supervision order. Detailed information about school attendance orders is contained in Ensuring Regular School Attendance paragraphs 6 to 16.4."

    2.11 "Where the authority imposes a time limit, every effort should be made to make sure that both the parents and the named senior officer with responsibility for elective home education in the local authority are available throughout this period. In particular the Department recommends that the time limit does not expire during or near to school holidays when there may be no appropriate point of contact for parents within the local authority

Notes About SAOs from Education Otherwise

  • SAOs are served on the parents of children who are outside the school system.
  • The School Attendance Order will name the school your child must attend and will direct the parent to register the child as a pupil at the named school.
    SAOs are often threatened but rarely issued.
  • In our experience, a number of local authorities threaten home educators with School Attendance Orders. The main reason for doing this is because families will be intimidated by receiving a legally worded letter mentioning "school" or "court" and will be more likely to comply with the authority's requests. Statistics collected by Education Otherwise tend to suggest that very few School Attendance Orders are actually issued.
  • It is therefore important to understand the steps in the SAO procedure and to ascertain whether the authority has moved to the point of issuing the School Attendance Order.
    SAOs come from the Education Welfare department.
  • Home education Advisors/Inspectors cannot issue SAOs themselves, the order has to come from the Education Welfare Department in conjunction with the legal department. For this reason, the home education officer may say that the family will be "referred to Education Welfare".

First Steps

In the first instance, we would expect the home education officer at the local authority to give some indication to parents that there were problems with the home education, either in terms of the education itself or in terms of lack of information about the home education being provided.

Statutory Notice Periods

As can be seen from the Government Guidance on School Attendance cited above, there are periods of statutory notice which must be given to the family. The family is first served with a notice of intention to issue an SAO. Second the family has 15 days to register the child with a school. Thirdly the SAO is issued. Fourthly the family has 15 days to comply with the SAO.

At any point in the proceedings towards issuing the SAO, the family can cause the SAO to be halted by demonstrating that the child is receiving education at home.

The Government Guidelines on home education also say:

At any stage following the issue of the Order, parents may present evidence to the local authority that they are now providing an appropriate education and apply to have the Order revoked.

If the case goes to the magistrates court, the parents will have to prove to the court that they are fulfilling their legal obligations by providing suitable education otherwise than at school.
The following is taken from the Government Guidance on School Attendance:

In the case of a child not registered at a school the parent will have a defence to the offence if he proves that he is providing suitable education at home.

The family can accept or challenge the authority's view

The family may accept or may challenge the authority's view. If the family decides to comply with the authority's requests, there should be sufficient time for the family to address the authority's concerns, either by changing the delivery of home education in some way or by providing additional information about the home education programme.

In our page about Educational Philosophies we set out some ways in which the family may choose to provide additional information.

What if the family does not comply with the requests preceding the SAO?

If the family chooses to challenge the authority's view, there may be a period of dialogue between the family and the authority, the outcome of which might be conclusive, i.e., one side or the other backs down.

On the other hand, the process may well be inconclusive, in that the local authority might give short term conditional approval with the proviso that someone will return to assess the home education in a few months.

"Threats work"

Local authorities have told Education Otherwise that "threats work". In other words, the threat to issue a School Attendance Order usually achieves the desired effect of causing the family to comply with requests/demands made by the authority.


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.