Education Act Update – 4&5yr olds

With the recent passing of the Education (Update) Bill, the resulting changes of which will come into effect on 3rd July, there has been considerable discussion among home education groups about what effect this will have on a parent or caregiver’s ability to home educate their young children or the processes involved.

The purpose of this post is to clarify what the changes do and don’t mean.

  1. The age at which a child MUST be enrolled in a registered school under law remains unchanged at 6 years old. Section 20 of the Education Act 1989 continues to say that a domestic student must be enrolled in and attending a registered school from their 6th to their 16th birthdays.
  2. As previously, students MAY be enrolled in a school from their 5th birthday. What is new is that some schools may choose to adopt a “cohort entry” policy (Section 5A-5C), which would mean that students would only be able to enrol at the dates set by the policy (usually beginning of and mid-term), so that they enter in groups. Under a cohort entry policy, students whose 5th birthday falls between the middle of one term and the middle of the next, may be enrolled at the earliest at the beginning of the latter term (5B(2)). Thus, some children who are still 4 years of age (but almost 5) may be able to be enrolled under that policy. Outside of a cohort entry policy, it remains against the law to enrol a child younger than 5 in a registered school (5(1a)). This is still the parent’s choice. They do not HAVE to enrol their child at any time prior to the 6th birthday.
  3. Also new, 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 25 of the Act. This means that parents whose 4 and 5 year old 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.
  4. HOWEVER, there is nothing in any part of the updated Act that prevents a parent from UN-enrolling their child (permanently removing) them from a school. If the child is less than 6yrs, a parent can still unenrol their child and begin home educating them immediately, so long as by the time they turn 6yrs they have obtained an exemption (or enrolled them in a school).
  5. A parent or guardian can apply for an exemption to home educate their child, on the basis that the child will be “taught at least as regularly and well as in a registered school”. This long-term exemption from the requirements of Section 20 is covered by Section 21 of the Education Act. Because it specifically refers to “exempt…from the requirements of Section 20” which only covers 6-16 year olds, home education exemptions continue to be applicable only to students from the age of 6 (ie. no change under the Update Bill). As per agreed Ministry policy, parents can apply for an exemption any time after the child’s 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:

  • If your child is 4 or 5 years old, enrolled in a school, and you wish to begin home educating them, then all you need to do is inform the school that you are removing them, and ask that they be removed from the roll. Do this in writing.
  • If your child is 4 or 5 years old, and NOT enrolled in a school, there is no need to inform anyone. Go ahead and begin home educating.
  • Either way, you will need to gain a certificate of exemption before the child’s 6th birthday. You can submit an application any time after they turn 5. At the latest, it is recommended you submit the application 6-8 weeks prior to their 6th birthday.


Legislation and links:


Thanks to Cynthia Hancox (NCHENZ Government Liaison team) for compiling this information.

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