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Non-Attendance at School

Excellent education is vital to the lives of all our children and to society as a whole.  Whilst not all children have the same start in life, education can help to ensure that every child has the same chance to fulfil their potential.

By law all children of compulsory school age (between 5 and 16) must get a proper full-time education.  Parents are responsible for making this happen, either by registering your child at school or by making other arrangements which provide an effective education. You are legally responsible for making sure they attend regularly.

How do schools record attendance?

Schools count each day as 2 sessions - morning and afternoon.  To achieve 100% attendance in a week your child will need to attend 10 full sessions (5 days - morning and afternoon) in that week.

Many children achieve 100% attendance and nearly all children attend school for over 95% of their time.

Schools are required by law to keep attendance registers which must be marked at the beginning of the morning session and during the course of the afternoon session. If a pupil of compulsory school age is absent, the register must show whether the absence was 'authorised' (acceptable) or 'unauthorised' (unacceptable, where no acceptable reason is given for absence).  Only the school can approve the reason for absence. 

Examples of authorised absence:

  • illness;
  • days of religious observance;
  • interviews with prospective employer/work experience;
  • study leave.

Examples of unauthorised absence:

  • truancy;
  • shopping;
  • birthday treats or trips;
  • house minding;
  • looking after members of the family (except in emergencies);
  • extended holiday in excess of 10 school days in any one school year;
  • family holiday taken in term time without seeking authorisation in advance from the school however due to new legislation Headteachers will unlikely grant permission for a family holiday even if it has been requested beforehand.

Why should my child attend school regularly?

Having a good education will help give your child the best possible start in life.  It is important to attend school regularly because:

  • if taught lessons are missed many children find it difficult to catch up when they return to school;
  • employers will want to be sure that the people they are hiring are reliable.  Children who have not attended their school regularly have less chance of getting a job;
  • young people who are not in school are at risk of becoming victims of crime or abuse.  They may be also drawn into antisocial or criminal behaviour.

What can I do to help?

The most important thing you can do is make sure your child goes to school regularly, arrives on time and keeps to the school's rules of attending all lessons.  Start with these good habits at an early age while your child is at primary school:

  • if your child is ill, contact the school on the first day of your child's illness.  Staff will be concerned if they do not hear anything;
  • if your child is ever off school you must tell the school why.  Do this following the school procedure;
  • If you want permission for your child to miss school for a special occasion, such as a wedding, you should ask for permission well in advance and give full details;
  • do not expect the school to agree to shopping trips during school hours;
  • take an interest in your child's school life.

My child's school is concerned about his/her attendance

If your child's school informs you that your child's average attendance is falling below the expected level, then there are things that you can do:

  • make all doctor, dentist or optician's appointments for after school;
  • make sure your child is able to get to school on time;
  • avoid taking holidays in term time, if you don't have the Headteacher's permission your child will be marked as having unauthorised absence;
  • if your child starts missing school, help the school to put things right.  Make sure that your child understands that you do not approve of them missing school.

The most common reasons for a child not wishing to attend school may be:

  • bullying;
  • a general dislike of school;
  • being in trouble with teachers;
  • inability to cope with lessons;
  • family issues;
  • being physically unwell at the thought of school.

 If one of the above reasons is the cause of any absence you should inform your child’s school and work with them to improve or resolve any difficulties your child is experiencing.

The law and non-attendance

The 1996 Education Act states that "if a child of compulsory school age, who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at that school, his parent is guilty of an offence."

The Local Authority can prosecute you in a magistrates court. This could result in you and your partner being fined up to a maximum of £2,500 and/or a term of imprisonment of up to 3 months for each child who is not going to school.

Alternatively, Education Welfare Officers, Police Officers and Headteachers have the authority to issue penalty notices to parents. Failure to pay a properly issued penalty notice will result in prosecution as above.

Penalty Notices

Certain cases of unauthorised absence can be dealt with by way of a Penalty Notice.

A Penalty Notice will only be issued to a parent/carer if the pupil has at least 10 sessions (5 school days) lost to unauthorised absence recorded within the previous six months.

In most circumstances, you should first receive a formal warning letter informing you that unless there is an improvement in your child’s attendance, a Penalty Notice will be issued.

The Education Welfare Service receives requests to issue Penalty Notices from schools/colleges in Wiltshire, the Wiltshire Constabulary and neighbouring Local Authorities. These will require the parent of a child of compulsory school age whose attendance has been unsatisfactory, to pay a fine of currently £60.00 (if paid within 21 days) or £120.00 (if paid within 28 days). 

Penalty Notices may be issued to both parents for each child.

Parenting Contract 

Where you need support to prevent your child from truanting, schools and local authorities may offer to enter into a parenting contract. This is a voluntary two sided agreement between you and the school/local authority under which you agree to comply with certain requirements and the school/local authority agrees to provide you with the support that you need.

You should be aware that if your child is missing school regularly and you refuse to agree to a contract - or do not keep to it's terms - this can be used as evidence if the local authority decides to prosecute you.

Parenting Order 

Magistrates can impose a Parenting Order, which could mean you having to attend parenting classes. Parenting Orders are designed to help you in addressing your child’s difficulties. They are a means of support rather than a punishment.

Education Supervision Order

If you are not seen to be working with the Education Welfare Officer and the school to improve your child’s attendance then the Local Authority may consider imposing an Education Supervision Order through the court. This would make the Local Authority directly responsible for the education of your child. This action is taken to support parents.

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Cached: Saturday 18 January 2020 2:19:09 am
Last updated: Wednesday 18 September 2013
Published: Monday 9 July 2012