What is compulsory school age?

Compulsory school age refers to the ages at which a child must be in full-time education, usually at a school. The term compulsory school age is slightly confusing as education is compulsory but children do not actually have to go to school.

Take a look at our School Age Calculator to see when your child should start school.

You may be interested in reading our article Does my child have to go to school?

What is the compulsory school starting age?

Compulsory school starting age is the age at which a child must start full-time education. The Education Act 1996, Section 8, says the following:

A person begins to be of compulsory school age—
(a) when he attains the age of five, if he attains that age on a prescribed day, and
(b) otherwise at the beginning of the prescribed day next following his attaining that age.

What this means is that a child must have started full-time education by the prescribed day after their fifth birthday. The prescribed days are currently September 1st, January 1st and April 1st.

If a child becomes 5 years old between January 1st and March 31st they are of compulsory school age at the start of the Summer term, after April 1st.

If a child becomes 5 years old between April 1st and August 31st they are of compulsory school age at the start of the Autumn term, after September 1st.

If a child becomes 5 years old between September 1st and December 31st they are of compulsory school age at the start of the Spring term, after January 1st.

What is the compulsory school leaving age?

Compulsory school leaving age is the age at which a child can leave full-time education. The Education Act 1996, Section 8, says the following:

A person ceases to be of compulsory school age at the end of the day which is the school leaving date for any calendar year—
(a) if he attains the age of 16 after that day but before the beginning of the school year next following,
(b) if he attains that age on that day, or
(c) (unless paragraph (a) applies) if that day is the school leaving date next following his attaining that age.

In England and Wales, a child can leave school on the last Friday in June (the school leaving date) if they will turn 16 before the end of the summer holidays. 
In England a child must then do one of the following until they turn 18 years old:

  • Remain in full-time education, for example at a school or college.
  • Start an apprenticeship.
  • Remain in part-time education or training whilst working or volunteering at least 20 hours per week.

In Scotland, a child who turns 16 between March 1st and September 30th can leave school after 31 May of that academic year. A child who turns 16 between October 1st and the end of February can leave at the start of the Christmas holidays in that school year.

In Northern Ireland a child who turns 16 during the school year (between September 1st and July 1st) you can leave school after 30 June. If a child turns 16 between July 2nd and August 31st though they cannot leave school until June 30th in the following year.

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