Children of compulsory education age must attend school full-time unless there is a very good reason for them not to be there, for example long-term illness. Parents also have the right to teach their child at home, either full or part-time.
The link between regular school attendance and a child’s achievement is very strong. Missing school regularly has a negative effect on a child’s education and puts them at risk of falling behind with learning and coursework.
It is a parent’s legal duty to make sure their child receives a suitable full-time education and parents who ignore their responsibilities and allow their children to skip school regularly risk fines, prosecution and even a custodial sentence if it is proved that the parent/carer knew of their child’s non-attendance and failed to act.
School attendance register
Schools are required to take an attendance register twice a day – at the start of the morning session and once at the start or during the afternoon session. A child who is not present when the register is taken will be marked absent.
A child’s absence from school must be authorised by the head teacher, who will decide whether the reason for absence is reasonable before doing so. A parent cannot authorise an absence.
Examples of authorised absence include illness, medical and dental appointments, religious festivals, study leave or taking part in approved educational activities off the school site.
When a child is off school ill for long periods, the school might ask for proof from the doctor.
Sometimes a head teacher refuses to authorise the child’s absence or permission is not sought. This is known as unauthorised absence.
Most schools try to contact the child’s parent when they are absent without explanation. This means you are aware that your child is not in school and can take immediate steps to ensure their safety.
If your child continues to lose school days to unauthorised absences, you will receive a formal notification from the head teacher explaining what actions might be taken.
The issue of term-time holidays has long been contentious. Generally, children are allowed up to ten days of term-time holiday if their school attendance is usually good; however, you must seek permission from the head teacher first.
Occasionally a child or young person misses school because of their caring duties at home, perhaps if a parent has a long-term illness or they have a disabled sibling. Please let your school know if your child is a young carer as there is help and support available.
Parenting contracts and parenting orders
The law enables local authorities to deal with poor attendance (and behaviour) using:
Parenting contracts - These are voluntary agreements to help improve your child’s attendance at school, e.g. tackling the reason for their truancy, bullying or falling behind, or even accompanying them to school for a week or two.
Parenting orders - These are issued by a court. They are designed to help and support parents in addressing their child’s continued truancy and include counselling and guidance sessions for up to three months. A parenting order should not be seen as a punishment as they are meant to help parents.
If you have the slightest suspicion about the welfare of a child who is regularly missing school contact your council’s Local Safeguarding Team. In an emergency, call 999.
No-one will reveal your name and you could be saving a child’s life.