School Attendance and Absence

This page provides an introduction to school attendance

Your responsibilities

As a parent you have a legal duty to make sure that your child receives education. A child is of compulsory school age between the ages of 5 and 16 - this runs from the start of the term after a child’s 5th birthday until the last Friday in June in the school year in which they turn 16. 

Keeping registers

Schools must take an attendance register twice a day. Any absences will be recorded with a specific code depending on the type of absence. Absences fall into two main categories; authorised or unauthorised. Only the school, not parents can authorise absence. If you want leave of absence for your child you must ask for permission in advance. If your child is sick or for other unforeseen absence, you should let the school know as soon as possible.

Leave during term time

Your child’s headteacher can only authorise leave during term time in exceptional circumstances. it is unlikely that a request for a holiday during term time will be authorised unless you can show that there are exceptional circumstances in your case. Put your request in writing as early as possible. If the head refuses to authorise the absence and you go anyway, this will be an unauthorised absence. You may then risk a fine or prosecution for non-attendance.

Sick children

If your child is sick, the absence should be authorised unless the school have genuine concern about the validity of the absence. Schools should accept parents’ notes and not routinely ask for doctors’ letters. However if the absence is long-term or repeated they may want proof that your child is genuinely unwell and unable to attend school. Keep copies of any appointment letters or medical reports.

If your child is too ill to attend school for more than 15 working days your local authority should be providing some education for them.

Children who won’t go to school

Often a problem at school or at home can lead to a child being reluctant to go to school or completely refusing to go. It’s important to keep talking both to the school and to your child. Check whether any of the following reasons apply to your child as you may be able to get extra help:


See ACE advice on bullying

Mental health problems including anxiety or depression. Ask the special educational needs co-ordinator about extra help in school. If the difficulties are severe your child might get alternative education as a child not well enough to attend school.

Problems with learning
Difficulties at home

Things like family breakdown, bereavement, illness, housing problems, or being a young carer can affect your child. The school may be able to provide additional pastoral support.

Possible penalties

There are a number of legal and other avenues that the school can pursue if your child fails to attend regularly. These range from a voluntary parenting contract to a fine or prosecution with a possibility of a custodial sentence in some cases.

Regular school attendance is important. By law all children of compulsory school age (five to sixteen) must receive a suitable full-time education. This could be at a school or other arrangements such as home schooling.

If your child is registered at a school, you are legally responsible for making sure they attend regularly. If you fail to do this, you risk getting a penalty notice or prosecution.

If you are having difficulties getting your child to attend regularly, talking to the school as early as possible and can help to solve any problems.

Your local authority can also help if you are struggling to ensure that your child goes to school. This is usually through the Education Welfare Service.