School Attendance Orders and Compulsory Registration FAQ

The government is proposing to introduce – via the Schools Bill – a requirement on parents to notify the local authority if their school-age children are not on the roll of a registered school. Some of these children will be home educated or may be going to something which the parents consider to be a school but is not a registered school. (Not all schools are required to register, which is another story) Other children may just not have a school place and should be on a local authority list already but I believe the requirement to register will still apply.

I am getting a lot of questions about what the government is proposing by way of sanctions or penalties if at some point in the future parents don’t comply with the requirement to register. The short answer is School Attendance Orders but as is so often the case, the short answer is not the simple answer, so I have put together this FAQ.

Q1 What does having to register my child actually involve?
We don’t know how much or what type of information will be requested for the register. I have blogged about this here. I am someone who needs a picture in their head of how a thing will work so I am envisaging an online form but that it will not be exclusively digital ie there will be other accessible options, but obviously this is just a guess. I am also guessing that parents will be asked for any further information in writing but again this hasn’t been explained and it is possible that someone could call round or telephone to obtain the extra information, although if parents are to be investigated for providing inaccurate or incomplete information, I presume there would have to be rigorous checks for logging the information received.

Q2 What will happen if I don’t register?
Parents will NOT be fined for not registering, instead, the Schools Attendance Order process will be used.

Q3 Does that mean if I don’t register they can just make my child go to school?
No. Firstly, as I explain here, it is somewhat of a misnomer to call it an “Attendance Order” since it is actually a registration order “requiring him [the parent] to cause the child to become a registered pupil at a school named in the order.” And secondly, there is a process to be followed before the Attendance Order is actually issued, and it starts with what is sometimes called “a notice to satisfy” for which the Schools Bill is proposing a new official name – “Preliminary notice for school attendance order

Q4 Preliminary notice? Is that where I get a legal looking letter saying I have 15 days to satisfy the local authority that my child is receiving suitable education otherwise they will issue a School Attendance Order?
Yes, but in future the government is saying it will be 10 days rather than 15.

Q5 So have I got this right, if I don’t register my child, I will get this Preliminary Notice thing and then I will have 10 days not just to register, but also to satisfy the local authority that my child is receiving suitable education, and if the LA says it’s not satisfied at the end of that time, then I will get the School Attendance Order itself?
Yes, that is mostly what the government is saying, except that the LA can’t just go straight from saying it’s not satisfied to issuing the actual Attendance Order because it has to find a school that agrees to be named and it has to consult with a school that it proposes to name and the school can object on the grounds that it is full already or that it would prejudice the education of existing pupils. So the LA has to find a school, consult with the school, and then give you a heads up about the school that it intends to name, which the Schools Bill says will be called “A School Nomination Notice”.

Q6 So I’ve had the Preliminary Notice and the School Nomination Notice and then I get the actual Attendance Order which should really be called a Registration Order?
Yes. That’s the theory. I gather that local authorities have told the government that this all takes too long at present, hence the proposed reduction from 15 days to 10 and also various other interim timescales being introduced eg 3 days from one step being finished to the next step being started.

Q7 What if I just ignore the Attendance Order?
If you mean not complying with the order ie not registering your child at school, then you would be breaching the Order which is a potential criminal offence and the local authority could opt to prosecute you, which would mean you got a summons from the magistrates court.

Q7 Do you mean if I ignore the Order I will end up with a criminal record???
No. That would only be the case if there were a prosecution and if you were found guilty. Firstly the local authority has to make the decision to prosecute you which is by no means the default option, and secondly you have the option of attending court, entering a not guilty plea, and then providing evidence to the court at a later date that your child is in fact receiving suitable education otherwise than at school, which is a legitimate defence in this type of prosecution.

Q8 But what if the LA has already made its mind up about my home education?
It is up to the court to decide, not the LA, and the requirement is for the education to be suitable to age ability aptitude and any special educational needs the child may have, so the possible types of acceptable education can be very varied, as no child has exactly the same needs as another child.

Q9 Court sounds really scary, what if I just don’t turn up?
If you don’t respond to a summons then you will be found guilty in your absence, but as above, you also have the option of attending court and entering a not guilty plea on the grounds that you are providing suitable education otherwise than at school and the case will be adjourned with a later date set for producing your evidence.

Q10 What if the court finds me guilty?
If you are convicted then there is a range of penalties. The government is proposing to double the potential maximum fine and is also mentioning imprisonment although I am assuming that this latter would not arise for a first offence.

Q10 If I am convicted does this mean the court can make my child go to school?
No. A conviction does not change the fact that in all normal circumstances it is only the parent who can register a child at school (unless the parent has lost their autonomy eg there is a supervision order or care order in place which is a whole other legal process) However, if you ARE convicted, then the Attendance Order will remain in force and you will continue to be in breach so the government is proposing that the local authority should be able to bring a new prosecution without starting again from scratch.

Q11 Going back a bit, what if I got the Attendance Order and couldn’t face all the court stuff, can’t I just register my child at a school and then after a bit take them out again?
No. The Pupil Registration Regulations 2006 as amended say “8.—(1) The following are prescribed as the grounds on which the name of a pupil of compulsory school age shall be deleted from the admission register— (a)where the pupil is registered at the school in accordance with the requirements of a school attendance order, that … the order is revoked by the local education authority on the ground that arrangements have been made for the child to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude otherwise than at school.” This means that the school is not allowed to deregister your child unless the LA has revoked the SAO and if you just stop sending them in and say you are home educating, you are in fact guilty of an offence under a different bit of the law to do with truancy.

This is the law as it stands at present but unaccountably the government seems not to realise, and in its Fact Sheet it wrongly says it is possible to attend just for one day and then take children out again, and gives this as justification for increasing the SAO fines to be on a par with truancy fines. However, the Education Minister in the Lords has subsequently said that fines are being increased to stop parents from deregistering to avoid prosecution for non-attendance.

Q12 I don’t really understand what you just said. It sounds like I can never get rid of the Attendance Order and my child has to attend school for ever?
No. That is not the case. You can currently apply for the order to be revoked (ie cancelled) and then you would be in the same position as any other parent wishing to deregister their child for home education where consent is only required if the pupil is on roll at a special school. You will still be able to do this under the new legislation. There are no proposals to change this in the Schools Bill.

Q12 I don’t really understand what you just said. It sounds like I can never get rid of the Attendance Order and my child has to attend school for ever?
No. This is not the case. You can currently apply for the order to be revoked (ie cancelled) and then you would be in the same position as any other parent wishing to deregister their child for home education where consent is only required if the pupil is on roll at a special school. You will still be able to do this under the new legislation. There are no proposals to change this in the Schools Bill.

Q13 This seems like a crippling mass of detail already and my head is spinning but have you left anything important out?
Yes. Literally nobody has ever asked me this but I wanted to find a way to signal that there should really be a second blog post.

MY WEBSITE LINK https://edyourself.org/articles/registration.php

1 thought on “School Attendance Orders and Compulsory Registration FAQ

  1. Pingback: School Attendance Orders FAQ Part 2 | edyourself

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