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School Attendance Offences (NSW)

In New South Wales, school attendance is compulsory for kids aged between six and 17, or until the child has completed Year 10 (whichever occurs first). This has been the case since 2010. Prior to that, school attendance was compulsory in NSW only until the age of 15.

When New South Wales raised the NSW school leaving age, the Premier said it was a ‘ground-breaking shift’ in educational policy and that the change would enhance the employment capacity and earning potential of young people in the state. Other states and territories have also raised the school leaving age to 17 as evidence has mounted that a person’s level of education has profound effects on their prospects in life.

Does this mean you have to finish school?

Under section 21B of the Education Act 1990, when a young person is aged below 17 but has completed Year 10, they have several options in New South Wales. They can continue to Year 11, do an apprenticeship or traineeship or they can study at TAFE or in higher education. Alternately, they can stop studying to undertake paid work, provided they do a minimum of 25 hours of paid work per week.


The act provides for a number of exemptions to be made from compulsory school attendance. 

Apprenticeship or traineeship

If a young person has finished Year 9 but has not finished not Year 10 and wants to start an apprenticeship or traineeship, the school principal can grant them an exemption from school attendance. However, if the apprenticeship or traineeship is cancelled and the young person is still aged under 17, they must return to school.

The exemption is necessary or desirable 

The Education Minister may grant a young person an exemption from school attendance if he or she is satisfied that conditions exist that make it necessary or desirable that the young person be granted such an exemption. An exemption of this nature may be made subject to conditions and for a specified time frame.

Conscientious objection

The parent of a child who is enrolled in a public school may give written notice to the school that they conscientiously object on religious grounds to the child being taught a particular part of a subject. The Department may accept such a notice if it is satisfied that the objection is based on genuinely held religious beliefs.

Compulsory Schooling Orders

Under section 22D of the Education Act the Children’s Court may make a Compulsory Schooling Order for a child who is of compulsory school attendance age. This order may require the child’s parent/s to ensure the child receives schooling or it may require the child to have compulsory schooling. The latter occurs if the child is 12 or older and is living independently of parents or the parents are unable to ensure they receive schooling.

A Compulsory Schooling Order is made on the application of the Department of Education’s Director-General. Parents of the child and the child themself may respond to such an application.

School attendance offence

Under Section 23, the parent of a child who is of compulsory school age commits a criminal offence if they do not enrol the child in a school or register the child for homeschooling. This offence is punishable by a fine of 25 penalty units (for a first offence), 50 penalty units (for a second offence) and 100 penalty units (for an offence by a parent who is a party to a compulsory schooling order).

If you require legal advice or representation in an education matter or in any other legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal. 

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

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