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School attendance

Why does good attendance matter?

A good education can be the cornerstone for future life opportunities. Missing school can leave gaps in knowledge and understanding and also place the student at a disadvantage in both their educational development and potentially in their eventual GCSE success.

Beyond qualifications, going to school every day is crucial for a number of reasons, such as:

  • it’s the best place for students to learn
  • it’s good preparation for college or work – colleges and employers expect a history of good attendance
  • parents will know where their children are and that they are safe
  • it’s the law

The law and school attendance

The 1996 Education Act (s7) places a legal responsibility upon parents or carers to ensure that their child fully attends the school at which they are registered. This means that a child must attend school every day and on time (unless parents or carers can prove that the absence was with the authorisation of the school or that it was unavoidable).

If a child has unauthorised absences then the school can make a request to the Local Education Authority (through the Education Welfare Service) to instigate parental responsibility measures. This could mean receiving any of the following:

A penalty notice. Should a penalty notice be issued, one notice will be issued to each parent or carer for each child involved.

Currently, each penalty notice is for £60 if paid within the first 21 days, this increases to £120 if paid between the 22nd and 28th day.

If a penalty notice goes unpaid after 28 days, then a magistrates’ summons will be issued. Also, if a penalty notice has already been issued within the previous two years then the Local Authority will proceed straight to a magistrates’ summons.

A magistrates’ summons that could lead to a criminal record, a fine of up to £2,500 and/or a term of imprisonment for up to 3 months.

Education Supervision Order (ESO). The Children Act 1989 allows the Local Education Authority to apply to the Family Proceedings Court for an ESO for any child of compulsory school age, whom it is felt, is not being properly educated.

The intention behind the ESO is to support parents in fulfilling their legal responsibilities. The ESO is only suitable where the child and the parents or carers are willing to cooperate with the process.

If the application for an order is successful the ESO will last for one year, but may be extended for up to 3 years. A supervising officer will be appointed by the court. The role of the supervisor is to work with the child and family to ensure that an appropriate education is received.

The law and requests for term-time absences

As of September 2013, an amendment to the Education (Pupil Registration)(England) Regulations 2006 came into force and greater clarity was introduced to the issue of schools authorising absence requests. These changes reinforced the government’s view that every minute of every school day is vital and that pupils should only be granted authorised absences by the school in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

A family holiday is not considered by the government to be an ‘exceptional circumstance’ and therefore may not be authorised by the school.

If parents or carers would like to request ‘leave’ to be considered for authorisation due to exceptional circumstances, they must complete and return an S2 form to the school.

If parents or carers choose to take a child out of school without the authorisation of the school, then Parental Responsibility Measures could be instigated.

When are absences unauthorised?

Schools are required to notify the Local Education Authority if a student has unauthorised absences. If the Local Education Authority believes the absences to be avoidable then it can initiate parental responsibility measures (see Law and School Attendance above) against the child’s parents or carers.

Unauthorised absences can be acquired when:

  • leave has been requested, but the circumstances are such that the school is unable to authorise the leave (and the leave is still taken anyway)
  • leave is not requested or the school has grounds to believe that the child has been taken out of school for an avoidable reason or both (for example, a family holiday, buying uniform, looking after a sibling) – there have been occasions when schools have been notified that the pupil is sick, but the school discovers or reasonably believes that the reason given for the absence is not genuine
  • a child continually arrives late after the registration period has closed
  • the headteacher has the authority to unauthorise any absence that they feel is avoidable

Attendance guidance and legal proceedings forms or documents can be found in our Administration section.