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Our factsheet briefly outlines the legal aspects of children and young people up to age 18 in various types of employment in England and Wales, including apprenticeships, work-related learning and work experience placements.
Who regulates child employment?
How does child employment law apply to under-18s who have left school?
What laws or regulations apply to young people working with children?
How does the law apply to work-related learning and work experience placements?
At what age can a young person undertake an apprenticeship?
At what age can a young person babysit?
Local authorities are responsible for the licensing and regulation of the employment of children who are under the school leaving age. There are special laws to protect the employment rights of these young workers, which relate to health and safety, what jobs they can do, when they can work, and how many hours they can work. An employer can be prosecuted for breaking these laws.1
The rules that cover the employment of children under the school leaving age are mainly found in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.(England)2 Some rules are also contained in other acts and regulations, for example the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.3
1. Employment in England: young people and employment on the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website.
2. Great Britain laws and statutes Children and Young Persons Act 1933: chapter 12 Norwich: The Stationery Office.
3. Great Britain laws and statutes (Statutory Instrument 1999 No. 3242) The management of health and safety at work regulations 1999. Norwich: The Stationery Office.
The school leaving age in the UK is currently 16, although the exact leaving date depends on a pupil's date of birth.
The Education and Skills Act 2008 changed the law so that young people in England will be required to participate in education or training until the age of 17 (from 2013) and until the age of 18 (from 2015).
For young people who are over the school leaving age but under 18, there are special restrictions on doing certain types of work:
The local authority has power to forbid the employment of a child under the school leaving age who is at a local authority-maintained school, or to impose restrictions on the child’s employment. However, the authority can only use this power if they think that the child is being employed in a way that prejudices the child’s health or makes the child unfit to obtain the full benefit of his or her education. This power does not apply where the child is a pupil at an independent school or an Academy.5
4. Employment in England: young people and employment on the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website.
5. Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) (2009) Guidance on the employment of children (PDF). London: Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF).
McKechnie, J. et al (2007) Cumbria's working youngsters: making the legislation work. London, NSPCC.
A research report published jointly by the NSPCC, Cumbria County Council and the University of Paisley .
Child care establishments such as nurseries, crèches, and out-of-school clubs are heavily regulated. There are strict guidelines about the ratios of staff to children, which state there must always be at least two adults present.6
In England the National standards for under-8s day care and childminding set out the regulations for various childcare settings. The guidance for each childcare setting (except for childminding) states that:
"trainees under 17 years of age are supervised at all times and are not counted in the staffing ratios; Where the registered person is satisfied that trainees of 17 years or over are competent and responsible, they may be included in the staffing ratios."6
In Wales the National minimum standards for children's services cover children's day care for under-8s and set out different requirements depending on the setting: for out-of-school care and sessional care the registered person must ensure that all trainees under 18 are supervised at all times and are not counted in the adult/child ratios; for open-access play provision and crèches the registered person must ensure that all playworkers under 18 are closely supervised at all times. Trainees can be taken into account in the normal staffing ratios.7
6. Department for Education and Skills (DfES) (2003) National standards for under-8s daycare and childminding [four separate documents]. Nottingham: DfES.
7. Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales: National minimum standards for children's services (various documents), on the Welsh Assembly Government website.
Child to adult ratios in supervision: recommendations for anyone supervising children
An NSPCC factsheet providing help and advice for organisations working with children.
Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA)
An NSPCC factsheet giving a brief introduction to the ISA.
The guidance for child care establishments in both England and Wales agrees that students on short term placements who work with children under 8 should not be taken into account in the normal staffing ratios.8,9
The DCSF has published guidance for employers, schools, colleges, students and their parents and carers in England, which includes information on work-related learning and work experience placements. It also includes additional information such as work experience placements abroad, child employment law, how to keep children safe, and child protection requirements.10
8. Department for Education and Skills (2003) National standards for under-8s daycare and childminding [four separate documents]. Nottingham: DfES. Search the Department of Education for "under 8s".
9. Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales. National minimum standards for children's services (various documents), on the Welsh Assembly Government website.
10. Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) (2009). The work-related learning guide: a guidance document for employers, schools, colleges, students and their parents and carers (PDF). 2nd ed. London: Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF).
Young people can work as apprentices from age 16, although there is also a Young Apprenticeship scheme for 14-to 16-year-olds. Apprentices are paid a salary for their work and also pay tax and national insurance.11
11. Apprenticeships on the gov.uk website.
Although there is no UK law saying how old a babysitter should be, the NSPCC recommends that babysitters should be at least 16.12
12. NSPCC (2012) Home alone: your guide to keeping your child safe. London: NSPCC.back to top