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School Attendance and Absence Laws

All children must receive a full-time education, according to the law. Find out what happens if you fail to give your child an education in the United Kingdom.

CHILD SCHOOLING: Most parents are happy to send their children to a school to get an education.

But, in fact the law allows you to educate your children by yourself if you choose to do so.

Even so, you must ensure that a full-time education meets the needs of your child. This also applies to children with special educational needs or ‘SEND’.

As a rule, school education for most children begins in the first term after their 5th birthday.

In most cases, their school years will finish on the last Friday in June after they turn 16 years old.

The Department for Education regulate strict school attendance laws in the United Kingdom. Thus, someone may contact you if your child has unauthorised school absence. Contact may be from:

  • The school where you enrolled your child if they are absent. This applies even if the child fails to turn up and misses only one day.
  • An education welfare officer from the council. This may apply if they think your home education is unsuitable for the child.

Note: You can get prosecuted for failing to provide your child with an education. As a rule, you will get a warning and the council will also try to help solve the problem. You can get further education and attendance information from your local council.

When can a Child Miss School?

There are only two authorised reasons why you can allow your child to be absent from school:

  1. If your child is too ill to go attend school (call the Attendance Line by 7:45 a.m. to explain the absence).
  2. If you have advance permission by the education facility authorising the child’s absence from school.

Most schools offer extra support for pupils with medical conditions or an illness. It applies for children who are unable to attend school for long periods of time due to a health problem.

Taking Family Holidays in Term Time

You need permission from the head teacher to take a child on a family holiday during the school term time. But, they will only grant permission in certain limited circumstances.

Even if they grant the leave, the head teacher will decide how many days your child can be absent. Two principle conditions determine whether the school will consider granting permission:

  1. When the parent makes an application to the head teacher in advance. It should be someone that the child usually lives with.
  2. When there are exceptional or unforeseen circumstances. An example would be to attend a family funeral.

Note: Taking a child on holiday in term time without advance permission from the school can result in a fine.

Paying for School Field Trips

Your child may get offered a place on a school trip (e.g. to a museum). They can ask parents to make a voluntary financial contribution. This helps to cover the cost of the activities and field trips.

If you refuse to pay the school cannot stop your child from joining in the activities. But, the school can cancel it if the funds they get do not cover the cost of the school trip.

Getting Help with School Attendance

It is not uncommon to have trouble getting children to attend school. But, there is help available for parents and guardians from the school and the local council. Their support can help your child improve their school attendance record.

The school or your local council has a team of advisers to plan better school attendance for your child. The council will most likely offer you:

  • Some support to help reduce the burden on children. This applies most to families in difficulty where a child spends time caring for someone.
  • A range of solutions working with families and the school. This targets key areas where school bullying and other serious problems exist.
  • A voluntary written agreement called a ‘parenting contract‘.

Voluntary Parenting Contract

The main aim of a parenting contract is to find ways of improving a child’s attendance in school. It is a voluntary written agreement made between a parent and the local council. It can also involve the school governing body.

Note: You do not have to agree to a parenting contract. But, a refusal, or breaching the agreement, may get used as evidence if the council prosecute you.

Taking Legal Action to Enforce School Attendance

Councils can take legal action to enforce child school attendance laws UK. Local councils and schools use several different types of legal powers. If there is no valid reason for a child to miss school, they can administer:

  • A Parenting Order
  • An Education Supervision Order
  • A School Attendance Order
  • A fine (also called a ‘penalty notice’)

Note: The council can issue one or more of these orders. But, they can choose to prosecute you instead.

Parenting Orders UK

Receiving a parenting order means you will need to attend parenting classes yourself. As a result, the court is likely to provide you with steps to improve your child’s school attendance.

Education Supervision Order

The council can apply for an Education Supervision Order from a court. This occurs most when they think you need some support in getting your child to attend school. They will appoint a supervisor to help you.

But, if they think you are not co-operating with their requests, they can prosecute you instead (or as well as).

DfE School Attendance Orders

Councils use a School Attendance Order if they think a child is not getting a proper education. You would then get 15 days to provide evidence. You must show your child has registered with a school or you are providing a child with home education.

If that process fails, they may force you to send your child to a specific school, as outline in the order. Failing to do so can result in a prosecution or a fine.

School Attendance Laws and Unauthorised Absence in the United KingdomFines for Taking Pupils Out of School

Vacation prices seem to increase every school holiday period. Some parents find it tempting to take a term time family break.

But, around 50,000 parents get fined £60 each year for doing so. This is according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

You might choose to ignore the school attendance rules and take your kids away. But, head teachers must report unauthorised child truancy to the Local Education Authority.

The LEA council can give you a fine for non-compliance of their school attendance laws. The fine applies to each unauthorised child taken out of school. But, both parents can also get fined in some circumstances.

A fine of £60 rises to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days. The next step is according to Education Act 1996. Prosecution at a magistrates’ court usually follows after 28 days if you do not pay the fine.

Note: The LEA fine is an alternative to a court summons. It means you cannot pay the fine and decide later that you want your case argued in front of a magistrate.

Prosecution (Section 444 of the Education Act)

We refer to section 444 of the Education Act in England. It states that failing to make sure your child goes to school ‘regularly’ is an offence. Prosecution under this law means in some cases you could actually get a criminal record.

You can get a fine up to £2,500 along with court costs and a community order or up to a 3 months jail sentence. In such circumstances the court is also likely to issue you with a Parenting Order as well.

Note: Most of the school attendance laws outlined in this guide apply to state schools in England. The rules for school attendance vary elsewhere around the United Kingdom.

  • Wales: Head teachers may authorise 10 days for certain circumstances. But, unauthorised absences can still receive a fine.
  • Scotland: Generally, there is no £60 fine. But, Local Education Authorities may issue ‘attendance orders’. The aim would be to request an explanation by the child’s parents for the absence. Non-compliance may lead to a court appearance resulting in one month in jail and up to £1,000 fine.
  • Northern Ireland: There is no fine for unauthorised school absence. But, a drop below 85% attendance could mean a child gets referred to the Education Welfare Service.

Attendance Rules at Private Schools

Private schools do not have the exact same school compulsory attendance laws and restrictions as state schools. So, there may be different consequences for parents to face for cases of child absenteeism.

But, most private schools have a code of conduct which they expect you to follow. In some cases, they are also required to report unauthorised child absences to the LEA.


What is the Definition of a Community School?

A community school is a partnership between community resources and a school. Often, it creates improved student learning and healthier communities. The supported partnership focuses on academics and opportunities.

What is a State School in the UK?

As a rule, the Local Authorities organise the running of state schools. State schools get their funding from taxes. Thus, most are non fee-paying. But, they do expect parents to provide their children with the basics (e.g. pens, pencils, and a ruler). The school covers the cost of specialised equipment (e.g. text books and examination fees).

How Old Are You if You Are in Year 11?

Key Stage 2: Years 3 to 6 for pupils aged between 8 and 11 years old.
Key Stage 3: Years 7 to 9 for pupils aged between 12 and 14 years old.
Key Stage 4: Years 10 to 11 for pupils aged between 15 and 16 years old.
Key Stage 5: Years 12 to 13 for pupils aged between 17 and 18 years old

What Age Do You Go to Secondary School?

When children reach the age of 11 they move to secondary school. They stay there until they reach sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen years of age. Parents and pupils should address teachers in primary schools by their surname (e.g. Mr, Mrs, or Miss Smith). Whereas, teachers are usually addressed as Miss or Sir in secondary schools.

A two-year period of education exists for teenagers from the age of 16. This is better known in the UK as college or ‘sixth form’. This continuing education typically leads to A-level qualifications. They relate to high school diplomas or a variety of alternate qualifications.

What is a Truancy in a High School?

As a rule, persistent truancy is an unauthorised or unexcused absence by a child who misses school for at least 10% of the term time.

What Does Unauthorized Absence Mean?

Authorised absence occurs when the school accepts your reasons for your child’s absence. Unauthorised absence means one of two things. The first would be that the school does not accept your explanation. The second would be that you have given no reason whatsoever for your child’s absence.

What is the Difference between Habitual and Chronic Truancy?

There are two different types of truancy – habitual truancy and chronic truancy laws. The number of unexcused absent days is the principle difference between a habitual and a chronic truant.

Habitual truant: The legal definition could apply to a child who is absent from school without permission for five (5) consecutive days, for seven (7) days in one school month, or for at least twelve (12) school days in one school year.

Chronic truant: The legal definition could apply to a child who is absent from school without permission for seven (7) consecutive school days, ten (10) days in one school month, or at least fifteen (15) school days in a year.

School Attendance Laws and Absence in the United Kingdom