From the beginning of the government school system in 1848 until 1880 school attendance was not compulsory in New South Wales .
The Public Instruction Act, 1880 required the attendance of children between the ages of 6 and 14 years for a period of not less than 70 days every half-year. Exemptions could be granted if the child lived more than 2 miles from the nearest school, was under regular instruction, was incapacitated through sickness, infirmity or other unavoidable cause from attending, or was already educated to the required standard.
The Public Instruction (Amendment) Act, 1916, which came into operation in January 1917, required the attendance of children between the ages of 7 and 14 for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, each school day. Exemptions could be granted for similar reasons to those allowed in the 1880 Act; but children of 11 years or more were not exempt unless required to walk more than three miles to school.
The Child Welfare Act, 1939 required the attendance of children between the ages of 6 and 14 years under the same conditions as the 1916 Act.
The Youth Welfare Act, 1940 required the attendance of children between the ages of 6 and 15, under the same conditions as the 1916 Act. The higher school leaving age was phased in from 14 years 4 months in 1941, to 14 years 8 months in 1942, and to 15 in 1943.
The Public Instruction (Blind and Infirm Children) Amendment Act, 1944 required the attendance of blind and infirm children between the ages of 6 and 15, who were not educable by ordinary methods of instruction, at special schools in their district. The Act came into effect in January 1948.
The Education Act 1990 made it the duty of the parent of a child of or above the age of 6 and below the age of 15 to enrol the child at a government school or registered non-government school and to attend the school at all times when the school is open for the child's instruction or participation in school activities, or to be registered for home schooling under Division 6 of Part 7 and to receive instruction in accordance with the conditions to which the registration is subject.
The Education Amendment Act 2009 raised the minimum school leaving age to 17 with effect from January 1, 2010. Students under the age of 17 can only leave school if they have completed the School Certificate and (a) participate on a full-time basis in approved education and training or (b) if the student is 15 years or older, paid work or a combination of approved education or training and paid work.