Under section 14 of the Education Act 1996 (EA 1996) local authorities are under a duty to ensure that there are sufficient primary and secondary schools in their area to provide all pupils with the opportunity of an appropriate education.
An appropriate education is defined in section 14 as one which offers instruction and training which may be desirable in view of pupils’ different ages, abilities and aptitudes, and the different periods for which they may be expected to remain at school.
Section 14(6) requires that in carrying out their functions under section 14, local authorities must ensure that special educational provision is made for pupils who have special educational needs.
Maintained schools are, broadly, schools which are wholly or substantially financially maintained by a local authority.
It is possible to establish an independent school in Wales. Independent school is defined in section 563 of EA 1996 and means any school which is not a maintained school and at which full-time education is provided for five or more pupils of compulsory school age, or at least one pupil of that age for whom a statement of special educational needs is maintained. All independent schools must be registered with the Welsh Government and it is a criminal offence to operate an independent school without being so registered. In addition all registered independent schools must comply with the standards set out in the Independent School Standards (Wales) Regulations 2003. The main legislative requirements in this respect are set out in Part 10 of the Education Act 2002.
A pupil may be educated in a pupil referral unit if for reason of illness, exclusion or otherwise they cannot be educated at a mainstream school. Pupil referral units are maintained by local authorities and are provided for in section 19 of, and Schedule 1 to, EA 1996. Because of the particular nature of pupil referral units the full range of education law does not apply to them in the way it would apply to a mainstream school. Those aspects of education law which do apply are set out in Schedule 1 to the EA 1996.
It is not a legal requirement that pupils be educated at a school. The legal requirements on parents in relation to the education of their children are set out in section 7 of EA 1996. That section provides that every parent of every child of compulsory school age must ensure that he or she receives efficient full-time education at a school or otherwise. Such education must be suitable to his or her age, ability, aptitude, and to any special educational needs he or she may have.
Parents may satisfy their duty under this section by providing efficient full-time education, suitable to the child (within the meaning of section 7), otherwise than at a school. The term 'otherwise than at a school' is broad enough to encompass education at home.
Broadly, compulsory school age in Wales is from five years to sixteen years.
Section 10 of EA 1996 places the Welsh Ministers under a general duty to promote the education of the people of Wales.