Attending school is compulsory for all compulsory school age children - that is, children aged between 6 and 16 years [Education and Children’s Services Act 2019 (SA) s 68]. Each child of compulsory school age is required to be enrolled at a primary or secondary school, and if absent from school the parent must, within 5 school days, advise the principal of the school the reason for the absence [Education and Children’s Services Act 2019 (SA) s 60, 68(3)].
There are now provisions requiring children to remain in full time education until they turn 17. Under the Education and Children’s Services Act 2019 (SA) children of compulsory education age (i.e. 16) must remain in full time education or training until they turn 17 or gain a qualification.
It is an offence for a child not to attend school without good reason (e.g. illness or other unavoidable circumstances to establish sufficient cause) [see s 68(3) of the Act and reg 22 of the Education and Children's Services Regulations 2020 (SA)]. Where a child fails to attend without reasonable excuse each person responsible for the child is guilty of an offence [ Education and Children’s Services Act (SA) s 68(2)]. The maximum penalty for this offence is $5000. A defence exists where it can be proven that the defendant took reasonably practicable steps to ensure the student attended school or participated in an approved learning program.
The Chief Executive may choose to convene a family conference (after consulting with the principal of the school or head of the approved learning program) where they are of the opinion that a student of compulsory school or education age is regularly absent, and arrangements should be made to attempt to improve their attendance or participation. The procedures for a family conference are outlined in sections 70-73 of the Act.
Under the Education and Children’s Services Act 2019 (SA) a child or young person of compulsory school age who is persistently absent from school without a satisfactory explanation is also regarded as being 'at risk' for the purposes of the Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017 (SA) s 18(1)(e). The principal of a school, or head of an approved learning program must notify the Chief Executive if a student of the school or approved learning program is persistently failing to attend school, or participate in the approved learning program. The legislation defines persistent failure as being absent for more than 10 days in a particular school term without reasonable excuse [s 75].
Any authorised officer (for example, a police officer or an authorised employee of the Department) who sees a child of compulsory school or education age in a public place during normal school hours has the authority to stop and ask the child’s name, age and address and why they are absent from school or an approved learning program [s 127]. A police officer can, without a warrant, take a child who is reasonably suspected of being a truant to their home or school [s 127(3)].
It is an offence to employ a child of compulsory school or education age during school hours, or during hours at which participation in an approved learning program is required. The maximum penalty for this offence is $10 000 [s 74].