School attendance and Schools Duties to Safeguard Children.

School attendance and Schools Duties to Safeguard Children.

I promised to send you information regarding the law and education that was briefly touched on during a coordinators forum that I recently attended and by the response I received education clearly is an area which is causing many of you some serious concerns, i.e part-time timetables and school attendance etc. Please see below a brief I have written for you hopefully clarifying areas of the law that you may find helpful as many of you support some of our most vulnerable children.

Firstly I firmly believe in a rights based approach towards supporting children and as adults we should be ensuring that children’s rights to education are upheld by all and when required enforced. Education legislation was introduced in this country way back in 1870 to improve outcomes for children yet still we have high levels of absence from our schools and continual high numbers of exclusions, have we really learned nothing since 1870? So lets have a quick look at the history of Education in the country.

With regard to school attendance, it has been compulsory for children to attend school since the then Government passed the Elementary Education Act of 1880, although this level of compulsion was for children aged 5-10 it was a start to ensure that all children have access to free full time education. This Education Act also introduced School Attendance Officers (latterly they have became known as Education Welfare Officers, but alas they are dwindling in numbers due to austerity and the increase in schools converting to academies as many do not buy back LA services) to ensure that children attended school regularly as schools then did have competition from factories who wanted to employ cheap child labour.

School Attendance Officers were responsible for prosecuting parents for failing to ensure that their children attend school. In 1916 non school attendance was the most prosecuted cases in the courts just behind “drunkenness in public places” so using the law to compel parents to send their children to school is nothing new in this country. The school leaving age was increased to 11 in 1888, then shortly after that to 13 and it was raised again to 14 in 1918. It wasn’t until the 1944 Education Act that the school leaving age was raised to 15, raising the age to 16 was proposed in 1964 and finally enacted in 1973. Finally as part of the Education and Skills Act 2008 (Raising Participation Age) young people now cannot leave education or training until they are 18( although no legislation has been passed to compel this).

At the recent forum many of the delegates asked questions about recent laws regarding school attendance and parent and local authorities specific duties. Firstly we need to look at the Education Act of 1996.


Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 states;

“It is the Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school age. The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and attitude, and to any special educational needs he may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise”

This has removed any doubt about parents responsibility for children to attend school. This act also ensured that every local authority has sufficient school places for children in their area.

Whilst the act puts a specific duty on parents Local Authorities also have the duty to monitor school attendance in their areas and take the appropriate supportive and enforcement action when required. Section 444 (1) and 444 (1) allows local authorities to prosecute parents which they must consider when periods of non school attendance have been identified.

Groan I can hear from you! we know that children who are at risk of CSE or who are being exploited often find that attending school can be very problematic and also stressful, sometimes parents cannot get their children to go to school and if they do some children run out of school when they get their so why prosecute in these circumstances. In situations where CSE is identified the local authorities could use Education Supervision Orders(ESO’s) under section 447 of the 1996 Act or Section 36 Children Act 1989.

These will allow a dedicated officer to work intensively with the child and family and school to help improve school attendance, these orders are not widely used as they can be labour intensive, Local Authorities also have to give the courts reasons as to why an ESO is not being considered instead of a prosecution, however with our vulnerable children this type of order may be an option to explore to potentially get the child and family some extra support. So ask the question of you local EWS !!!

Schools also have a specific duty to protect children. Section 175 of The Education Act 2002 compels schools to;

  • Safeguard children and,
  • Promote their well being.

This Act covers ALL educational institutions including academies , free schools and Independent Schools (section 157 of the same Act applies to Independent Schools). Therefore if children are not attending school or academy the institutions must do something about this and take the appropriate steps to support the child. So when schools suggest a part time timetable , incidentally there is NO basis in law for such a request, how can this be in the child’s best interest( a fundamental element of the Children Act 1989) and also simply putting children into alternative educational placements is not always the best answer either as many of these facilities do not offer full time placements.

Full time compulsory education ( aged 5-16) means 190 days of education and in general the school week should be between 25 to 27.5 hours per week, although in the last budget the Chancellor made funds available to extend the school day for secondary schools. Children’s rights to education are also enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998, Article 2 of Protocol 1 No one can be denied the right to education. This encompasses a right:

  • To an effective education (that is adequate and appropriate);
  • To access to existing educational institutions;
  • To be educated in the national language; and
  • To obtain official recognition when studies have been completed

The right to Education is also enshrined within the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child in Article 28 Rights to Education and Article 29 Goals of Education. The UK Government ratified this legislation in 1991.

With these rights to education be mindful of the child’s right to” effective education” ( that is adequate and appropriate) and to challenge schools regarding part time timetables and alternative education that is not full time and does not meet a child’s needs or aspirations.

If you have any queries or questions regarding this blog then please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Kevin Murphy