Compulsory education

Details of when a child must start and may leave compulsory education.

When does a child have to begin education?

When a child reaches the age of four on or between 1 September and 1 July, the child will usually begin their education at the beginning of the next school year.

Where a child reaches the age of four on or between 2 July and 31 August in the same calendar year, the child will start school in the September following their fifth birthday.

This means that children born in July, August and September are the oldest in the year group whereas those born in April, May and June are the youngest.  Children who are the youngest in the class are sometimes called Young for Year children.

Deferral of Primary School

The School Age (Northern Ireland) Act 2022 now allows the parents or guardians of young for year children to defer their child starting primary school by one year. If you choose for your child to defer prior to starting primary school, they will then start school in the September following their fifth birthday.

Deferral of primary school starting age is available on parental request to any child born between 1 April and 1 July and to any child due to be born after 1 April but born before this date. Deferral does not require an educational assessment.

You can also find more information about this here

Frequently asked questions relating to deferral of primary school are also available on the EA website and can be accessed here(external link opens in a new window / tab)

Pupils aged 16

Pupils who are 16 between 1 September and 1 July (inclusive) in the school year, can leave school on 30 June of that year.

Pupils who become 16 between 2 July and 31 August (inclusive) in any year, cannot leave school until 30 June of the following year.

Pupils may continue education for a further two years, after they become 16, although this is not compulsory. Education Reform (NI) Order 1989 Article 156 and DE Circular 1990/27 refers.

Education orders

The education orders which govern children’s attendance at school in Northern Ireland are:

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