Good school attendance is vital to ensuring a child or young person receives an effective education. Attendance is so important that schools are required by law to follow strict attendance rules and must follow up on cases of poor attendance. This page will look at what the law says about school attendance and will set out the process schools and local authorities use to enforce school attendance.
School attendance is mandatory for all children in the UK between the ages of 5 – 16 years of age. Attendance is a legal requirement which comes with fines for parents who do not ensure their children go to school. It is also an incredibly important monitoring tool in helping your child or young person has the level of education they need to put them strong position for adult life and the working world
What sub-section are available on this page?
- The Law About Attendance
- How Attendance Works
- The ‘T-Code’
- Consequences for Poor Attendance
The Law About Attendance
The law requires all children receive a full-time education from age five until the last Friday of June after they have turned sixteen. The law regarding education for sixteen to eighteen-year-olds in England has changed. Please refer to the Post-16 education page in the Learn More section.
As a parent it is your legal duty to make sure your child receives a full-time education during the child’s mandatory school age. Parents can be criminally prosecuted they don’t meet this duty either by not ensuring their child attends school, or if they do not provide suitable home education for children who are not enrolled at a school.
You will normally get warnings and offers of help from the local council first. You can be fined for taking your child out of school during term time without the school’s permission.
Young people aged 16 and 17 must either:
- stay in full-time education (attend college)
- start an apprenticeship or traineeship
- work or volunteer for at least 20 hours per week while in part-time education or training
How Attendance Works
You must get permission from the head teacher if you want to take your child out of school during term time. The head teacher can decide how many days your child is allowed to be away from school. You need permission for anything that means your child will miss school, even family occasions such as weddings and funerals.
You must ensure your child attends school on every day that the school requires them to do so. In TM’s experience, most schools aim for a 95% attendance rate. If your child’s attendance goes below 85%, the school will arrange a meeting with you and the Education Welfare Officer.
Missing one day a week for a whole year would be 80% attendance and would cause concern to the school.
If you regularly travel to another area, your child can register in a local school there while keeping their place in their home school.
The T-Code is a specific code used to authorise certain school absences for Travelling families. If your family is travelling for work purposes make sure you let the school know. This will then allow schools to put a ‘T’ in the register which records Gypsy and Traveller pupils’ agreed absences from school if their parents are travelling for work.
Who can use the T-Code?
Traveller is used to refer to a number of ethnic and occupational groups which includes Irish and Scottish Travellers, English and Welsh Gypsies, Roma, Showmen (fairground people), Circus people, Bargees and New Age Travellers.
When should the T-Code be used?
This code should only be used when Traveller families are known to be travelling for occupational (work) purposes and have agreed this with the school in advance but it is not known whether the pupil is attending educational provision.
When can the T-Code not be used?
The T-Code cannot be used for any other types of absence by pupils from these groups. It cannot be used for weddings, funerals or any other type of event.
Children from these groups whose families do not travel are expected to register at a school and attend as normal. They are subject to the same rules as other children in terms of the requirement to attend school regularly once registered at a school.
Other information related to the T-Code
To help ensure continuity of education for Traveller children it is expected that the child should attend school elsewhere when their family is travelling and be dual registered at that school and the main school.
Consequences for Poor Attendance
Each school will have an attendance policy, which may be contained within their behaviour policy or code of conduct policy. This means that schools may act differently from one another when managing a pupil’s non-attendance. It is therefore helpful to refer to this policy which should be made publicly available on the school’s website.
Schools are generally very supportive when it comes to managing poor attendance, but schools do have a legal duty to monitor attendance and can face investigation if they fail to address high non-attendance rates in their school. It is for this reason that parents can expect to be issued a fine should their child not attend school.
Key Facts About Non-Attendance Fines
- Parents whose children do not attend school can be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) by the local authority for their child’s non-attendance. The penalty is typically £60, but rises to £120 if paid after 21 days but within 28 days.
- Each Local Authority should publish a ‘Code of Conduct’ for Fixed Penalty Notices. The school’s headteacher decides if they wish to fine unauthorised absences from school by issuing a Fixed Penalty Notice. The headteacher then requests by a referral to the local authority to issue a fixed Penalty Notice on his or her behalf.
- There is no right of appeal against a Fixed Penalty Notice. If it is not paid, the local authority can proceed to prosecution or withdraw the notice. The Local Authority can also prosecute parents for non-attendance without issuing a Fixed Penalty Notice. Only the Local Authority can prosecute parents and they must fund all associated costs.
- If a registered pupil of compulsory school age fails to attend school regularly the parent could be guilty of an offence. “regularly” means attendance in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school and not “sufficiently frequent attendance“. This means that a child must attend school on every day that the school requires him or her to do so and failure to do this may lead to the commission of an offence.
When it comes to non-attendance offences, there are two:
- Section 444(1) Education Act 1996 – If the child is absent without authorisation, then the parent is guilty of an offence. This is a strict liability offence i.e. all that needs to be shown is a lack of regular attendance. Sanctions can include a fine of up to £1,000.
- Section 444(1A) Education Act 1996 – an aggravated offence. If the child is absent without authorisation and the parent knew about the child’s absence and failed to act then the parent is guilty of an offence. Sanctions can include a fine of up to £2,500 and a prison sentence of up to 3 months.
- Parents can also be prosecuted by Local Authorities under section 103 Education and Inspections Act 2006, where a pupil of compulsory school age who remains on the Admissions Register is found in a public place during school hours, after being excluded from school. Sanctions can include a fine of up to £1,000.
There are some limited defences to these offences:
- The head teacher authorised the absence.
- The child could not attend because of sickness or ‘unavoidable cause’ in an emergency. Case law has held that stress arising from bullying, behavioural or mental health difficulties or a ‘chaotic lifestyle’ should not be considered an ‘unavoidable cause’.
- The child was absent on a day exclusively set apart for religious observance.
- The school is outside of the statutory walking distance of the child’s home and the Local Authority has a duty to make travel arrangements in relation to the child under and has failed to discharge that duty
- The child is not registered at the school and the parents are providing a suitable alternative education.
- The parents’ trade or business requires them to travel from place to place.
We encourage all parents and families to speak with schools and have open conversation about what is preventing the child or young person from attending school. It is only when schools are aware of challenges that they can provide the necessary support.
If you feel that you have been unfairly issued a fine, either through discrimination or failure of the school to follow their policies, or have been unfairly taken to court by a school, please contact the Education Advocacy Unit for advice and support.
For more information, please visit Child Law Advice.