This blog post is intended to be read alongside the information on my website and the blog posts from earlier in the week about the compulsory registration of children not in school (which some people are calling the home education register because it includes home educated children). If you are starting this post without having seen those three earlier pages, then it will probably raise all kinds of questions and I would really recommend going back to learn more about the context.
Just to recap, yesterday’s post said that the government is proposing to require parents to notify the local authority if their school-age children are not on the roll of a registered school and that if parents don’t register with the local authority after this becomes law – WHICH WILL TAKE AT LEAST A YEAR AS IT HAS ONLY JUST STARTED GOING THROUGH PARLIAMENT – they will get a School Attendance Order notice. Yesterday’s post provided the basic information about School Attendance Orders and this post is FAQ Part 2.
Q14 When you said in Q13 about leaving some important things out, what did you mean?
In Q1-12 I gave the impression that the School Attendance Order process would only apply if parents failed to register altogether. This was an over-simplification because the post was getting too long already. What the government is ACTUALLY proposing is for a notice to be served EITHER if the parent has not registered at all, OR if some of the information is missing.
Q15 I don’t understand about information being missing, surely I just have to give the LA details of the child’s name, address, and date of birth?
No. We have absolutely no idea what information will be required for the register. It could be very little or it could be a huge amount and it might vary from one area to another because it is all being left to be decided by regulation later. I have blogged about this here https://edyourself.wordpress.com/2022/05/18/children-not-in-school-register-england/
Q16 Are you saying that if I don’t answer all the questions on the registration form then my child will have to go to school?
No, although it could end up there. Firstly, just a reminder that the term “Attendance Order” is misleading, it should really be “Registration Order” and the local authority CANNOT IN LAW jump straight from a perceived fault in the registration information to naming a school that your child must attend. FAQ Part 1 explains more about this
Q17 But I might end up with a Notice which starts the school attendance order process just for missing some information off a form though?
Yes. If you don’t complete the form then it could appear to the local authority that the registration information is incomplete. You would have 15 days to put this right and if you failed, this would trigger the serving of the preliminary notice to satisfy the LA within 10 days that your child is in fact receiving suitable education.
Q18 What is the 10 days thing about? I thought you said 15 days.
No. You have 15 days to register and to answer all the questions about the register and in the hypothetical scenario of the council’s saying your information is incomplete, you then get a Notice where you have 10 days to satisfy the LA that your child is receiving suitable education before they issue a School Attendance Order.
Q19 But how can I get all that done about satisfying the LA regarding my child’s education if I only have 10 days and why do you keep saying 10 days I thought it was 15?
The 10 day time limit for satisfying the LA about your home education does seem unrealistic. But the government does want to shorten it to 10 days, presumably because councils tell the government that school attendance orders “take too long”.
Q20 OK so I have this really short time but obviously the LA will have new time limits as well, it can’t just leave things hanging, that’s only fair?
No unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. There doesn’t appear to be any new requirement on the LA either to make its mind up quickly or to tell you what it has decided about the suitability of your child’s education. Plus there is the indeterminate amount of time necessary for the LA to find a school with a space that also agrees to be named on the order, because the LA can’t take things forward with issuing the actual order until there is a school that agrees to be named.
Q21 But how did I get here? All this about having to satisfy the LA and whatever idea of suitable education they might have and then the whole threat of finding a school – it all started just because I missed some information off the form when I don’t even know what will be ON the form?
Yes. It may not be likely but under the provisions of the Schools Bill as currently drafted it is definitely a possibility and if it went ahead without being fixed then there could be a great amount of leeway as to how it was interpreted in each local area, in effect a postcode lottery. Read more here about the lack of detail in the Bill, to be decided by regulation later.
Q23 Right, so regardless of whether I agree with registration or not, if this goes ahead I just need to be extra sure I don’t miss anything off the form and then I’ll be OK?
Not exactly. There is a final twist which I think is an unintended consequence of the way the government has chosen to proceed. The government’s plan is to amend the current legislation regarding School Attendance Orders. (To read more about how SAOs work NOW, click here.) Section 437 of the Education Act 1996 says “(1) 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.”
What the government is proposing is TO TAKE THIS OUT and REPLACE IT WITH “(1) A local authority in England must serve a notice under this subsection on a person in relation to a child if it appears to them that— (a) the person is a parent of the child, and (b) any of Conditions A to C is met.” Condition A is about the child’s not receiving suitable education, as per the current law, but Conditions B and C cover NEW scenarios where the parent has either not registered an eligible child or not provided all the information which the local authority has requested.
To my way of thinking there is a problem with retaining the word “appears” which makes perfect sense for a further investigation of the home education provision if it APPEARS there may be a concern, but which introduces a large amount of subjectivity in whether it might “appear” to a local authority that the registration information is incomplete – or incorrect.
Q24 So, worst case scenario, the LA says “it appears” that my registration information is incomplete, they give me 15 days to sort it but then still say it’s not right,they go through all the stages of the school attendance order process, I end up with an Order to register my child at a school which I don’t obey, the LA decides to prosecute me for failing to comply with the Order, I somehow manage not to defend myself in the magistrate’s court and end up being convicted. At this point the very worst thing that could happen is a fine, right? Which I already know from FAQ1 is going to be potentially double the current maximum fine.
No. That’s not the worst. The government is also proposing to allow imprisonment for a maximum of 3 months.
Q25 What? Where on earth are you getting all this about double fines and prison from?
Clause 50 of the Schools Bill under the heading “failure to comply with a school attendance order”. See my web page for a breakdown of what appears in each clause.
Q26 So we’re doomed?
Not necessarily. The whole purpose of parliamentary scrutiny is to identify these types of problems and there will be opportunities for members of the House of Lords and then the House of Commons to draw this to the attention of the Minister and to require that the wording is changed. My initial web page on compulsory registration has more detail about how a Bill goes through parliament.