Education for children out of school

This page provides information on the duties of schools and local authorities to provide education for children out of school because of exclusion, illness or other reasons.

What is the duty of the Local Authority towards children out of school?

Under section 436A Education Act 1996 (introduced by section 4 Education and Skills Act 2008), Local Authorities are under a duty to identify children not receiving an education. Local Authorities must make arrangements to identify children of compulsory school age in their area who are not registered pupils at a school and are not receiving suitable education otherwise than at school. 

The government has issued Statutory Guidance on this called “Children Missing Education” (Sept 2016), which states that children of compulsory school age who are not receiving a suitable education should be returned to full time education either at school or in alternative provision.

For pupils aged 16-18, Local Authorities have a power rather than a duty to arrange education provision.

For more information on action that can be taken against parents due to a child being absent from school, see our information page on School Attendance and Absence.

For more information on home educating your child see our information page on Home Education.

What is compulsory school age?

A child is of compulsory school age the 1st term after their 5th birthday. Therefore:

  • children who turn 5 between 1st January and 31st March will be of compulsory school age at the beginning of the school term after 1st April;
  • children who turn 5 between 1st April and 31st August will be of compulsory school age at the beginning of the school term after 1st September;
  • children who turn 5 between 1st September and 31st December will be of compulsory school age at the beginning of the school term after 1st January.

A child remains of compulsory school age until the last Friday in June in the school year that they turn 16. From September 2013 all 16 year olds need to remain in education or training until the end of the academic year and from September 2015 they will be required to continue until their 18th birthday. 

What alternative education is available to children out of school?

The government has published Statutory Guidance called “Alternative Provision“. It includes:

  • education arranged by Local Authorities for pupils who because of exclusion, illness or other reasons would not otherwise receive a suitable education;
  • education arranged by schools for pupils on a fixed period exclusion;
  • pupils directed by schools to off-site provision to improve their behaviour.

The education should be the same amount as a child would receive in a maintained school and can be made up by two or more part-time provisions. The education can take place in a Pupil Referral Unit or at another school. 

With regard to the expected standards of alternative provision, the Guidance states that it should:

  • aim at good academic attainment on par with mainstream schools in key subjects (English, maths, science and IT with the appropriate qualifications);
  • identify and meet the specific personal, social and academic needs of pupils;
  • aim to improve a pupil’s motivation and self-confidence, attendance and engagement with education; and
  • have clearly defined objectives including future options of education, training or employment.

Children out of school because of exclusion

For fixed period exclusions, governing bodies of maintained schools and academies must arrange full-time education for excluded pupils from the 6th school day of the exclusion under section 100 Education and Inspections Act 2006.

For permanent exclusions, Local Authorities must provide suitable full-time education to permanently excluded pupils from the 6th day of exclusion under section 19 Education Act 1996.

For more information on the obligations of schools and Local Authorities following exclusion see our information on School exclusion.

Children out of school for reasons other than exclusion

There is no statutory time frame within which a suitable full-time education should begin for pupils who are out of school but have not been excluded; however, it should be as quickly as possible.

Children out of school because of illness 

The government has issued Statutory Guidance called “Ensuring a good education for children who cannot attend school because of health needs” (May 2013). 

If your child, of compulsory school age, is too ill to attend school, the Local Authority must arrange suitable full time education (or as much education as the child’s health allows). The Local Authority should attempt to arrange this as soon as it is clear that the child will be away from school for more than 15 school days (consecutively or cumulatively), although there is no statutory timeframe. For long term medical conditions, education can be provided at home or at hospital.

The Local Authority should have a named officer who is responsible for the education of children with additional health needs and their details should be made known to the parent. 

All pupils of compulsory school age are entitled to a full-time education. In exceptional circumstances, a child can be placed on a temporary part-time timetable, for example, where a medical condition prevents full-time attendance. This must not be a long-term measure and it must be clear when the part-time timetable comes to an end. The absences from school as part of the part-time timetable will be treated as authorised. 

Note: A part-time timetable must not be used as a disciplinary measure. This would result in the child accruing day or half-day exclusions (depending on the circumstances) every time the child wasn’t in school. For more information see our information page on School Exclusion.

For more information on the obligations of schools toward children with medical needs, see our information page on Supporting children with medical needs in school.

When can a child be sent off-site for education?

Under section 29A Education Act 2002 (introduced by section 154 Education and Skills Act 2008), governing bodies of maintained schools can direct a pupil off-site for education to improve his or her behaviour. In this situation, the governing body must:

  • ensure that parents are given clear information about the placement – why, when, where and how it will be reviewed;
  • advise the Local Authority, where the child has a Statement of SEN or EHCP;
  • regularly review the placement (with regular input from parents), to ensure it is achieving its objectives and the pupil is benefitting from it.

Parents can request, in writing, that the placement is reviewed and governing bodies must comply with the request as soon as is reasonably practicable, unless there has been a review in the last 10 weeks. 

The governing body should have a plan for reintegrating a child into mainstream education at the end of the placement off-site. A report should be produced of the pupil’s achievements, attainment and progress as well as attendance.

Note: Section 29A does not apply to academies, although the academy may have a power to direct off-site under its own terms. Academies can follow section 29A as a matter of good practice. 

A child can also be sent to another site for education under a managed move – see our information page on Managed Moves