Now that the Education and Training Act 2020 has come into force this July, I'm writing this updated version of the situation with links to the new legislation.
The purpose of this post is to clarify what the attendance requirement for 5 year olds do and don’t mean.
- The age at which a child MUST be enrolled in a registered school under law remains unchanged at 6 years old. Section 35 of the Education and Training Act 2020 says that a domestic student must be enrolled in and attending a registered school from their 6th to their 16th birthdays.
- As previously, students MAY be enrolled in a school from their 5th birthday. It is against the law to enrol a child younger than 5 in a registered school. (s62). This is still the parent’s choice. They do not HAVE to enrol their child at any time prior to the 6th birthday.
- The 2017 change, continuing in the new Act, is that once a child is enrolled in a school they are required to attend, even if they are under the age of 6. These attendance requirements are covered by Section 36 of the 2020 Act. This means that parents whose 5yo children are enrolled in a school are subject to the same requirements to send them each day as the parents of an older student. The only exception is if a transition plan is in place to ease them into full time attendance.
- HOWEVER, there is nothing in any part of the Act that prevents a parent from UN-enrolling their child (permanently removing) them from a school (for any reason). If the child is less than 6, a parent can still unenroll their child and begin home educating them immediately, so long as by the time they turn 6 they have obtained an exemption (or enrolled them in a school).
- A parent or guardian can apply for an exemption to home educate their child, on the basis that the child is to be “taught at least as regularly and well as in a registered school.” This long-term exemption from the requirements of Section 35 is covered by Section 38 of the Education and Training Act. Because it specifically refers to “exempt…from the requirements of Section 35” which only covers 6-16 year olds, home education exemptions continue to be applicable only to students from the age of 6. (No change under the new Act). As per agreed Ministry policy, parents can apply for an exemption any time after the 5th birthday, and have the application processed and the exemption granted, but the exemption comes into force from the 6th birthday, as prior to that there is nothing to be exempt from.
To sum up:
"Children who are five years old can be withdrawn from school. If they are currently enrolled at a school they must be attending, but they can be removed from the roll and leave the school at the parent or carer’s request. Parents can refer the schools to the following links if there is any misunderstanding. Links on unenrolling five year olds can be found on Parents.education enrolling-and-starting-your-child-at-school and the Ministry website Starting school"
Parents should be able to provide their schools with the above links (or the one below) to clear up any confusion; scroll or click on the "Unenrolling 5 year olds" sections to go directly to the specific info.
Clarification was also added to the Ministry's Bulletin to School Leaders of 15th February which says this:
"Update: Five-year-old children enrolled in school: Our bulletin on 1 February noted that “While families wait for their application to be assessed, legally all children aged over six years must be enrolled at and attending school (children can enrol at age five and once enrolled must attend)”.
Children who are enrolled in school from the age of five may be removed from the roll before their sixth birthday at their parents’ request. In this instance, children will not be required to attend school until they turn six.
Schools should update ENROL using the leave reason “Caregiver decision” for these situations."
A related matter I get asked about from time to time is "If my child has been enrolled in school at 5, and then I withdrew them, can they be re-enrolled in an ECE, and receive the funding?" The answer is yes, they can. Any child under 6 who is not enrolled in a school can be enrolled in an ECE, and if they meet the other eligibility criteria, receive the 20 hours-per-week funding.
A family who experienced difficulty around this asked for my support. The result was an email from the ECE team at the Ministry that confirmed:
"If a child under the age of 6 has recently enrolled in school, then subsequently un-enrols from school in order to re-enrol in an early learning service for an ongoing period (for example because the parents have decided that the child is not ready to transition to school), then they are eligible for any early childhood funding available. Children are not able to access early childhood funding if they are enrolled in school on an ongoing basis, eg they cannot enrol in an early childhood service in the school holidays."
The current Education and Training Act 2020 can be viewed online here: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2020/0038/latest/LMS170676.html
My step-by-step guide to getting a home education exemption can be found HERE.
The Ministry of Education's information about home education exemptions can be found HERE.
Section 58 of the Ministry's 2018 internal Home Education Policy and Procedures Manual confirms that 5yos may withdrawn from school at any time and not re-enrolled in a school until they turn 6
The Ministry publishes a document for schools and BOTs called Attendance Matters. The current version is out of date on a number of points, but I include it here to point out that it states under the National Administration Guidelines (NAGs) on Page 15 that "a parent is free to withdraw their 5 year old at any time and not re-enrol them in another school until they are 6"