Before we get to that, note that this is a Ministry POLICY, not a law. That means it's something they agreed to and instituted, and can also change. In 2017, a Ministry staff member who was reviewing policies found that the then-wording of the policy did not align with the law, and they were going to do away with it (or replace it with a much more messy and unworkable version). Fortunately, he came to me about it (in my role as NCHENZ Government Liaison), and I was able to explain the history, reasoning, and need for this policy, and suggest that rather than throw out the policy, tweaking the wording would be more appropriate. After some on-going discussion, that's what happened. (If you're not a NCHENZ member, please join - it's free! - though donations are appreciated)
Student Database & Relevant Law
Because the law says all students must be enrolled, unless they have an exemption, an enrolment and an exemption are mutually exclusive under the law. They cannot both exist at the same time. When you gain an exemption, school enrolment is ended. When you enroll in school, an exemption ceases. And because the database is limited in its function, it has no way of "parking" an exemption on the basis of a school trial.
How School Trials are Managed
1) Parent chooses which school their child will attend and arranges enrolment from a certain date with the school. When the enrolment begins, the exemption technically ceases on ENROL. For this reason, don't allow a school to enroll the student weeks in advance of when you want a trial to begin.
2) The parent contacts their regional Ministry office - in writing, so by email, is best - and advises them their child is starting a school trial from the date of enrolment. The Ministry make a note of that on the family's file.
3) If the parents choose to withdraw the child within 10 school weeks (not counting holidays) to return to home education, they again notify the Ministry, this time of their return to homeschooling, requesting the exemption be reinstated. It is also important that the parents make sure the school has been advised to remove the child from their roll (ie they're not coming back). If they do not do this, then the Ministry will not be able to reinstate the exemption in ENROL.
4) MoE reinstates the exemption status on ENROL. No new application is required in most circumstances.
If the student has been enrolled in school for longer than 10 weeks, then a new application is required.
If the student has been enrolled for less than 10 weeks, then a new application is only required if "there has been a material change in circumstances" - this is part of the MoE's policy wording and is not defined, but allows for situations where something has been discovered during the school trial period which means that, in the MOE's view, the previous exemption did not cover it. So, for example, let's say the exemption was granted for a child who had no known special education needs, but when they went to school it was noticed and documented that they had significant additional learning needs. The MoE could ask the parents for a new application, taking into account these additional needs and how they will be supported at home. Another example would be where new information comes to the Ministry attention that they think may affect the parent's ability to continue to meet Section 38 (as regularly and well) requirements. While this wording was added in 2017, so far, I know of no instances when it has been put into effect. For them to act on this, though, their policy requires that the Ministry has "appropriate supporting evidence" (ie proof of the matter they think relevant).
No, the 10 week period does not include school holidays. This wording was added to Ministry policy in 2018. The wording says: "If a trial falls over a school holiday period, then those holiday weeks will not be counted towards the 10 weeks duration."
If the student returns to home education on or before 28 days, then they will receive the full supervision allowance, including for the period they were enrolled in school.
If the student returns to home education after 28 days but within 10 weeks, then their supervision allowance will be calculated on a pro-rata basis, not funded for the days they were enrolled in school.
Yes, in theory, there can. Wording in the Ministry's policy document says "Regional office staff should work with parents on a transition plan for their child exiting home education and attending school or leaving school and recommencing home education if necessary." This does not happen commonly, but there is potential for it if it would be in the best interests of the student - this would need to be discussed with regional staff.
It may be best not to do so at the outset, so that the student is treated the same as all other students (eg resources are not withheld on a "we'll see if you stick around" basis, which would adversely affect your ability to see if school is the right fit for your student.) That said, the Ministry thinks that "schools must agree to the trial" - though this flies in the face of the legal right you have to enroll your child in any school for which they are in zone. Let's call this a "grey area".
There is technically no limit to how many school trials you could do, or how many different schools could be tried over time. After all, families often have changes in circumstances which mean they move house, change schools, or enter or leave homeschooling. The law that says it is your right to decide how and where your child will be educated remains in place, not matter what else changes around your circumstances, and you have the right to responsively and responsibly respond to new information or circumstances, acting in the best interests of your child at the time.
That said, the Ministry expects that a school trial "should be regarded as a serious attempt by the student and their parents to reintegrate (or enter for the first time) into a schooling environment. Multiple school trials require further investigation by regional staff to assess why they are occurring. This will involve discussions with both the parents and the relevant school/s".
Bouncing in and out of school trials will likely result in questions being asked, or them requiring a new exemption to return to home education. So only do this with wise forethought and be ready to answer questions if needed.
If you are serious about your child returning to school, but the first school you try is not a good fit, then it's fair enough to try another one. Remember that if you begin a trial, and then move to another school (without officially returning to home education in between) then they are simply enrolled in a school - it's ok to take the necessary steps to figure out which is the right one for them. If this is the case, then likely it's sensible to just not worry about the whole "school trial" idea and simply focus on finding the right school for your child. Should you end up deciding to return to home education later, it's not that big of a deal to do a new exemption application - often you can just update the previous one if it wasn't too long ago and resubmit it, or write a new one. After all, you will now be more experienced than a parent just starting out, which should make it easier to do if you need to.
The school trial policy exists to enable parents to attempt to reintegrate their children into school without worrying about needing to do a new exemption if a short return to school shows that that is clearly not the right fit for them at this time. It's not intended to cover every contingency and/or lengthy attempts to find the right school, and that's ok.
If you need your child to be in school for a longer time in order to work out if it's right for him or her, that's ok. Yes, you'll need to do a new exemption application if you return to homeschooling, but that is not the end of the world. Focus on figuring out what is best for your child, not just trying to avoid the application process. You can get support with the application process if you need it.
Remember, policies can be changed. Be thankful we have this policy in place, and don't abuse it.
If you run into any issues around school trials, feel free to Contact Me if you need some advice or support.