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Notes About SAOs from Education Otherwise

  • SAOs are served on the parents of children who are outside the school system.
  • The School Attendance Order will name the school your child must attend and will direct the parent to register the child as a pupil at the named school.
    SAOs are often threatened but rarely issued.
  • In our experience, a number of local authorities threaten home educators with School Attendance Orders. The main reason for doing this is because families will be intimidated by receiving a legally worded letter mentioning "school" or "court" and will be more likely to comply with the authority's requests. Statistics collected by Education Otherwise tend to suggest that very few School Attendance Orders are actually issued.
  • It is therefore important to understand the steps in the SAO procedure and to ascertain whether the authority has moved to the point of issuing the School Attendance Order.
    SAOs come from the Education Welfare department.
  • Home education Advisors/Inspectors cannot issue SAOs themselves, the order has to come from the Education Welfare Department in conjunction with the legal department. For this reason, the home education officer may say that the family will be "referred to Education Welfare".

First Steps

In the first instance, we would expect the home education officer at the local authority to give some indication to parents that there were problems with the home education, either in terms of the education itself or in terms of lack of information about the home education being provided.

Statutory Notice Periods

As can be seen from the Government Guidance on School Attendance cited above, there are periods of statutory notice which must be given to the family. The family is first served with a notice of intention to issue an SAO. Second the family has 15 days to register the child with a school. Thirdly the SAO is issued. Fourthly the family has 15 days to comply with the SAO.

At any point in the proceedings towards issuing the SAO, the family can cause the SAO to be halted by demonstrating that the child is receiving education at home.

The Government Guidelines on home education also say:

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 case goes to the magistrates court, the parents will have to prove to the court that they are fulfilling their legal obligations by providing suitable education otherwise than at school.
The following is taken from the Government Guidance on School Attendance:

In the case of a child not registered at a school the parent will have a defence to the offence if he proves that he is providing suitable education at home.

The family can accept or challenge the authority's view

The family may accept or may challenge the authority's view. If the family decides to comply with the authority's requests, there should be sufficient time for the family to address the authority's concerns, either by changing the delivery of home education in some way or by providing additional information about the home education programme.

In our page about Educational Philosophies we set out some ways in which the family may choose to provide additional information.

What if the family does not comply with the requests preceding the SAO?

If the family chooses to challenge the authority's view, there may be a period of dialogue between the family and the authority, the outcome of which might be conclusive, i.e., one side or the other backs down.

On the other hand, the process may well be inconclusive, in that the local authority might give short term conditional approval with the proviso that someone will return to assess the home education in a few months.

"Threats work"

Local authorities have told Education Otherwise that "threats work". In other words, the threat to issue a School Attendance Order usually achieves the desired effect of causing the family to comply with requests/demands made by the authority.


Education Otherwise frequently receives enquiries from parents about home education, often relating to how they should engage with their local authority. This has been particularly concerning for parents since the publication of the Elective Home Education Departmental Guidance for Local Authorities (EHEDGLA), in April 2019.

Education Otherwise, in conjunction with the Centre for Personalised Education charity, has obtained advice from a Queen's Counsel (or QC, a title given to a senior barrister) in order to help us provide accurate information to parents. The QC we instructed specialises in public law and education law, and is a former part-time Chair of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, and a current member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission's panel of counsel. The QC also trains lawyers and others in education and public law.

Education Otherwise is revising its information in line with the advice received from the QC. The revised information will be posted on the website when ready. In the meantime, but also as a matter of good practice, parents should of course always obtain their own legal advice if they have concerns over any issues.