Key points

  • A child is a person who is not over 'compulsory school age'. In England and Wales a child who turns 16 during a school year cannot lawfully leave school until the last Friday in June. A child who turns 16 after that last Friday in June, but before the beginning of the next school year, may likewise lawfully leave school on that last Friday in June. In Scotland, a child who turns 16 during the period from 1 March to 30 September, inclusive, may leave school on 31 May of that same year. Children whose 16th birthdays occur outside that period must remain at school until the first day of the Christmas holidays.

  • These provisions are currently to be found in section 8 of the Education Act 1996, supported by the Education (School Leaving Date) Order 1997, and (for Scotland) in section 31 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.

  • Given the many restrictions on the employment of school-age children, employers (or would-be employers) who have doubts about the true age of young-ish employees and job applicants would be wise to contact their local education authorities for further particulars. Alternatively, they should insist on the production of a birth certificate or (as is their right and on payment of a small fee) apply to the registrar or superintendent registrar of births, deaths and marriages for a certified copy of that birth certificate; as to which, see Birth certificates elsewhere in this handbook.

Legal restrictions on the employment of children

  • Statues and Regulations prohibiting or restricting the employment of children in prescribed circumstances include:

    1. Employment of Women, Young Persons & Children Act 1920 (as amended);

    2. Children & Young Persons Act 1933 (as amended);

    3. Children & Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 (as amended);

    4. Children & Young Persons Act 1963 (as amended);

    5. Children (Performances) Regulations 1968;

    6. Employment of Children Act 1973;

    7. Education (Work Experience) Act 1973 (as amended); and

    8. The Children (Protection at Work) Regulations 1998, implementing EC Council Directive 94/33/EC on the protection of young people at work.

    Prohibitions on the employment of young persons (which expression includes children) in certain hazardous occupations are discussed elsewhere in this handbook in the section titled Women & young persons, employment of.

Children & Young Persons Acts 1933 & 1937

  • The Children & Young Persons Acts 1933 & 1937 (as amended by the Children (Protection at Work) Regulations 1997 (qv) state that no child shall be employed:

    1. so long as he (or she) is under the age of fourteen years; or

    2. to do any work other than light work (see below); or

    3. before the close of school hours on any day on which he (or she) is required to attend school; or

    4. before seven o'clock in the morning or after seven o'clock in the evening on any day; or

    5. for more than two hours on any day on which he (or she) is required to attend school; or

    6. for more than two hours on any Sunday; or

    7. for more than eight hours or, if he (or she) is under the age of 15, for more than five hours on any day (other than a Sunday) on which he is not required to attend school; or

    8. for more than 35 hours or, if under the age of 15, for more than 25 hours in any week in which he (or she) is not required to attend school; or

    9. for more than four hours in any day without a rest break of one hour; or

    10. at any time in a year unless, at that time, he (or she) has had, or could still have, during school holidays, at least two consecutive weeks without employment.

    The expression 'light work' means work of a kind that is unlikely to affect the safety, health or development of a school age child or to interfere with the child's education or regular and punctual attendance at school.

  • Within seven days of employing a school age child, employers must apply to the local education authority (on a form supplied by the authority) for an Employment Certificate. The application form will seek a brief explanation of the type of employment in question and will ask for information about daily working hours, intervals for meals and rest, and so on. A copy of the Certificate approving the employment in question will be sent, as a matter of routine, to the child's Head Teacher. The consent of the child's parents or guardian will also be required (see also Information to parents below). Before applying for an Employment Certificate, employers should make it their business to obtain a copy of the local authority's byelaws on the employment of children (although these will often be provided automatically when the application form is sent or delivered to the employer).

  • Local authority byelaws may distinguish between children of different ages and sexes and between different localities, trades, occupations, and circumstances. They may prohibit absolutely the employment of children in specified occupations, and may (notwithstanding the general prohibition on the employment of children under the age of 14) contain provisions authorising the employment by the parents or guardians of children under 14 in light agricultural or horticultural work. Such byelaws may also authorise the employment of children aged 13 years in certain categories of light work and may allow children under 14 to work for up to an hour before the start of school on any day in which they are required to attend school.


    Under the Employment of Children Act 1973, the power of local authorities (or, in Scotland, education authorities) to make byelaws regulating the employment of children is replaced by a power of the Secretary of State for Employment to make cognate regulations. To date, the Secretary of State has not exercised that power.

Other prohibited occupations

  • Many local authorities prohibit the employment of children in the following occupations:

    • in the kitchen of any hotel, cook shop, fried fish shop, restaurant, snack bar or cafeteria;

    • as a marker or attendant in any billiards or pools saloon, licensed gaming house or registered club;

    • in, or in connection with, the sale of alcohol, except where alcohol is sold exclusively in sealed containers;

    • in collecting or sorting rags, scrap metal or refuse;

    • as a fairground attendant or assistant;

    • in any slaughterhouse;

    • in, or in connection with, any racecourse or race-track, or other place where any like sport is carried on;

    • in any heavy agricultural work;

    • in, or in connection with, the sale of paraffin, turpentine, white spirit, methylated spirit or petroleum spirit;

    • touting or selling from door to door; or

    • as a window cleaner.

    As was indicated earlier, copies of local authority byelaws (including applications for a permit to employ a child) are available on request from the relevant local authority for the district in which the would-be employer conducts his or her business.

Industrial undertakings

  • Section 1(1) of the Employment of Women, Young Persons & Children Act 1920 prohibits the employment of any child in an 'industrial undertaking', which includes particularly:

    • mines and quarries;

    • industries in which articles are manufactured, altered, cleaned, repaired, ornamented, finished, adapted for sale, broken up or demolished, or in which materials are transformed;

    • construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, alteration or demolition of any building, railway, harbour, dock, pier, canal, inland waterway, road, tunnel, bridge, viaduct, sewer, drain, well, gaswork, waterwork or other work of construction, including the preparation for or laying the foundations of any such work or structure;

    • transport of passengers or goods by road, rail or inland waterway, including the handling of goods at docks, quays, wharves and warehouses, but excluding transport by hand.

    The 1920 Act cautions that the relevant local authority (in Scotland, the education authority) must be consulted if the employer is in any doubt about the lines or divisions between industry, commerce and agriculture.

Information to parents

  • Before employing a child, a would-be employer must not only obtain the consent of one or other of the child's parents or guardians, but must also provide that parent or guardian with relevant and comprehensible information about any health and safety risks associated with the job in question. That information must include particulars about the preventive and protective measures the employer proposes to adopt (or has already put in place) to eliminate or minimise those risks (regulation 10(2), Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999).

Work experience

  • Under the Education (Work Experience) Act 1973, the restrictions otherwise imposed on the employment of school age children (in relation to working hours and periods of employment) do not apply during their last academic year at school (the GCSE year) if the employment in question is part of a local authority-approved work experience programme. The 1973 Act does not, however, permit the employment of such children in work otherwise prohibited by statute or local authority byelaws.

Public performances

  • Under the Children (Performances) Regulations 1968, a school age child may take part in a public performance (stage work, television broadcasts, etc) in prescribed circumstances, subject to the issue of a licence by the relevant local authority or a Justice of the Peace. Would- be employers or agents in such circumstances should enquire of the local authority for the area in which the child attends school.

Offences and penalties

  • If a child is employed in contravention of any of the statutes or byelaws discussed above, the employer (or, as appropriate, the parent or guardian) will be guilty of an offence and liable, on summary conviction, to a fine of up to £200, rising to £500 if convicted on a second or subsequent occasion. The penalty for an offence under health and safety legislation restricting or prohibiting the employment of children in certain occupations is a fine of up to £2,000 or a fine of an unlimited amount if a conviction is obtained on indictment. If the offence constitutes a failure on the part of an employer to discharge a duty to which he is subject under sections 2 to 6 of the Health & Safety at Work, etc Act 1974, the fine on summary conviction could be as much as £20,000.