EWS - Legal Information

Information and FAQs on legislation in relation to school attendance.


Under Article 45 of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, it is the duty of parents who have a child of compulsory school age to ensure their child receives efficient, full time education suitable to their age, aptitude, ability and to any special educational needs they may have. Such education may be provided by regular attendance at school or otherwise, for example home education.

Paragraph 3 (1) of Schedule 13 to the 1986 Order states that it is the duty of a parent of a registered pupil of a school to secure their regular attendance at school. This applies to all children of compulsory school age who are on the roll of a school. Parents are legally responsible for making this happen.

Under Part III of Schedule 13 to the 1986 Order, if a child or young person who is registered at a school does not attend regularly, a parent can receive a fine not exceeding £1,000 in court (for each child). An Education Supervision Order (ESO) could also be made by a Court under Article 55 of the Children (NI) Order 1995.

The Education Authority may decide that the only way to secure a child’s education is to initiate legal proceedings. If Court action is being considered parents will be notified in advance with cases discussed at the local Area EWS Court Proceedings Panel. This can result in a parental fine should a parent be brought to Court and found guilty or an Education Supervision Order (ESO) could be granted.

This may occur where parents:

  • Avoid contact with the EWS and do not respond to letters/invitations to meeting
  • Refuse to work in partnership or cooperate with intervention suggested for their child.

The Court Process

  • Parents will receive a written summons which requires them to attend court.
  • Children are not required to attend but should be made aware of the seriousness of the situation.
  • A senior Education Welfare Officer representing the Education Authority will provide the magistrate with a copy of the child’s attendance and relevant facts,
  • If Convicted at a court hearing the court can fine each parent up to £1000 for each child.
  • After each court hearing the school attendance is expected to reach an acceptable level and be maintained. If this does not happen the further legal action may be taken by the Education Authority.

Education Supervision Order

The EWS may apply to the Family Proceeding Court for an Education Supervision Order {ESO} to further support parents in fulfilling their legal responsibility in ensuring their child has full access to education.

  • The EWO will prepare a comprehensive report for submission to the court.
  • When the ESO is granted, the EWO takes responsibility to ensure the directions of the Order are followed.
  • When deciding whether to make the Order, the paramount consideration will be the welfare of the child.
  • Education Supervision Orders may also require Social Services Involvement.


What is an Education Supervision Order?

Education Supervision Orders are:

  • Part of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995
  • Heard in the Family Proceedings Court.
  • Only suitable when there is a level of co-operation between the Education Authority and the family.
  • Intended to support parents in fulfilling their legal responsibilities

 Education Supervision Orders are not:

  • Criminal proceedings.
  • Designed to punish the parents or the child.

What will happen?

The Education Welfare Officer who has been working with the family will prepare a comprehensive report on the situation, taking into account the welfare checklist.

Will my child and I have to attend court?

Yes, you and your child will be directed to attend the family proceedings court. The setting is less formal than in an ordinary court. Family proceedings courts are specially designed to hear reports about family matters.

Who will be in court?

Your education welfare officer will be in court with you throughout the hearing.

There will be a magistrate(s) who will hear the evidence provided by the Education Authority (EA). A solicitor from the Education Authority’s joint legal service or a senior education welfare officer will act for the Education Authority and present the case.

You are entitled to have a solicitor represent you in court. The court may appoint a separate solicitor to act in the interests of your child if it feels it is necessary.

When is an Education Supervision Order granted?

The Court must be satisfied that:

  • A child of compulsory school age is not being properly educated.
  • That making an order would be better than making no order.

 Regard will also be given to what is known as the welfare checklist. This includes:

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child.
  • His or her physical, emotional and educational needs.
  • The likely effects of a change in circumstances.
  • His or her age, sex and background.
  • Any harm suffered or at risk of suffering.
  • The capability of parents or other relevant persons in meeting his or her needs.
  • Other powers available to the Court.

 The Education Authority has to consult with the Trust (Social Service’s Department) before applying for an Education Supervision Order to ascertain if they have any objections or contributions to the plan.

How long will the Education Supervision Order last?

The order will initially be for one year. Before the end of that year, an application can be made for the order to be extended for up to three years.

However, an order cannot continue once your child has passed compulsory school age. 

An application to discharge the order can be made before it is due to end by you, the Education Authority or your child. If you wish to do this you need to apply to the court. If the court agrees that there are no longer reasons for an order to exist, the court may discharge it.

What are Directions?

If an Education Supervision Order is granted by the Court directions will be agreed aimed at improving the young person’s attendance.

A Supervising Officer is empowered to give directions to the child or the parents/guardians.

These could be:

  • To attend meetings or appointments.
  • To undertake an assessment or examination.
  • To allow the supervising officer regular access to the child.

 Directions should:

  • Only be used when necessary.
  • Be reasonable.
  • Be confirmed in writing.

What happens if the Education Supervision Order fails?

The matter can be referred to the Family Proceedings Court. 

Parents can be prosecuted in the Youth Court or Magistrates Court if they have failed to follow directions.

Social Services must investigate the child’s circumstances and consider whether to act to secure the welfare of the child.

Last updated: 04/08/2022