School Attendance Orders (SAO)
School Attendance Orders for those that are currently Home Educated
Here, we will be addressing a situation where a child is being home educated and they are then served with a School Attendance Order. We are not including those who have been truant from school and are served with an order to return to school.
School Attendance Order - (SAO)
A School Attendance Order is issued when the local authority is not satisfied that education is being provided otherwise than at school and where the authority considers it expedient that the child should attend school.
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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. After the formal notice period expires, if the local authority remains dissatisfied regarding the child’s education (received otherwise than at school) the authority should write to the parents indicating that it intends to issue a School Attendance Order.
It is only when a formal notice is issued under s437 that a local authority is required to be satisfied by evidence provided by the parents/guardians. In other cases, this request for information is just ‘informal enquiries’.
If the LA are asking for formal evidence and information, it will be made clear that this is under s437 in relation to School Attendance Orders. Government guidelines also clarify that asking parents for further information or evidence of work is not the same as being formally requested under s437 (1) and is not necessarily a precursor for formal proceedings.
The School Attendance Order names the school the child must attend and will direct the parents to register the child at the named school. The relevant legislation comes from section 437 -444 of the Education Act 1996.
Government Guidelines on Home Education state: ‘A school attendance order should be served after all reasonable steps have been taken to try to resolve the situation.’
In most cases the SAO is threatened but not actually issued. It is likely they are threatened in some cases because for the parents the threat of legal and formal proceedings is very frightening and propels the parents to send the child to school.
The process could result in a court appearance, where the parent will have the opportunity to provide evidence that they are providing a suitable education. It is not the local authority which ultimately decides whether a child should go to school or continue being home educated but the court.
Prior to this procedure being established, the home education officer from the local authority should give the parents some indication that they have an issue with the home education being provided.
This may be in terms of the education itself or because they do not have enough information about what education is being provided. Unless the parents decide at this point to challenge the LA (believing they are providing a suitable education), they will have sufficient time to address the concerns by either providing the relevant information to satisfy that a suitable education is taking place or by changing the education that they are providing for the child.
School Attendance Order and Court
Once the School Attendance Order has been issued, if the parents do not register the child at the named school, the authority may choose to prosecute. The case then goes to the Magistrates court. At this point the parents are no longer dealing with the authority, but with the court. This gives the family a fresh chance to show that education is being provided, irrespective of any disagreements which may have arisen with the local authority. The parent may be convicted or acquitted. Section 443 states: ‘a person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.’
If the parent is acquitted, ‘the court may direct that the school attendance order shall cease to be in force.’
Government Guidelines say that ‘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.’
The level of evidence required is that which would convince a reasonable person on the balance of probability. Importantly the court is interested in what is happening at that time, not what was happening when the order was first issued and that it is up to you what evidence you supply and how you supply it.
The court can revoke the order if it is satisfied that the parents are fulfilling their duty.
Taken from Government Home Education Guidelines for Local Authorities:
2.3 The responsibility for a child’s education rests with his or her parents. An “efficient” and “suitable” education is not defined in the Education Act 1996 but “efficient” has been broadly described in case law as an education that “achieves that which it sets out to achieve”, and a “suitable” education is one that “primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so.
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.
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.
Notice of intention to serve the order
(2) Before serving the order the authority shall serve on the parent a notice in writing—
(a) informing him of their intention to serve the order,
(b) specifying the school which the authority intend to name in the order and, if they think fit, one or more other schools which they regard as suitable alternatives
Consulting the school
(5) Before deciding to specify a particular maintained school in a notice under section 438(2) a local education authority shall consult—
(a) the governing body, and
(b) if another local education authority are responsible for determining the arrangements for the admission of pupils to the school, that authority
(6) Where a local education authority decide to specify a particular maintained school in a notice under section 438(2) they shall, before serving the notice [our emphasis] , serve notice in writing of their decision on
(a) the governing body and head teacher of the school
Revoking the School Attendance Order
(2) If at any time the parent applies to the local education authority requesting that the order be revoked on the ground that arrangements have been made for the child to receive suitable education otherwise than at school, the authority shall comply with the request, unless they are of the opinion that no satisfactory arrangements have been made for the education of the child otherwise than at school.
(3) If a parent is aggrieved by a refusal of the local education authority to comply with a request under subsection (2), he may refer the question to the Secretary of State.
Deletions from Admission Register (The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006)
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
Therefore, where the child has been registered as a pupil with a school following a School Attendance Order, any parent wishing to home educate must first write to the local authority and ask for the SAO to be revoked on the grounds that arrangements have been made for the child's education. The LA may ask for further information. The order must be revoked before the child's name can be successfully deleted from the school roll.