School attendance

The law requires parents and carers to make sure that their child of compulsory school age receives a full-time education, either by attending school or through alternative education arrangements.

Parent and carer responsibilities

Your legal responsibility as a parent or carer is to ensure that your children of school age receive a suitable full-time education, by either enrolling your child at a school or by making other arrangements through home schooling / elective home education.

Once enrolled at a school it remains the parent or carer’s legal responsibility to ensure that their child attends school regularly and arrives on time each day.

Our top tips for maintaining good school attendance:

  1. Create good attendance habits from when your child first goes to nursery
  2. Talk to your child about the importance of school for their future
  3. Take a positive interest in your child's work, including helping them with homework
  4. Help your child to get into a good night-time, sleep time and morning routine
  5. Have a good relationship with school, talk to them about concerns you have and your child’s progress
  6. Contact school on the first day of absence if your child is not able to attend
  7. Be honest with school if your child is absent or not wanting to attend
  8. Book all holidays in the school holidays and not in term time
  9. Book medical appointments after school or during the school holidays. If you can’t, then make sure your child attends before and after their appointment
  10. Prioritise school attendance over other activities and ask for help if you need it

If your child has problems attending school you should, first of all, contact your child’s school to ask for further support.

Please also consult our guidance documents for parents/carers which details expectations for parents, schools and the Local Authority:

School responsibilities

Schools’ responsibilities relating to attendance are detailed in the Education Regulations, they include:

  • Taking a register twice each day (at the start of the morning session and once during the afternoon)
  • Using the appropriate national attendance codes
  • Complying with statutory registration and deletion procedures

Schools and Local Authorities also have a number of responsibilities outlined in the government guidance Working Together to Improve Attendance. Please also see the Attendance Team Guidance for Parents/Carers above.

Where there are concerns about pupil absence, schools should seek to intervene early, offering support, wherever possible, for a parent or carer to enable their child to attend school regularly.

Further attendance guidance for schools and access to our online referral form is located on our Professional Resources page, below:

Attendance guidance for schools

Holidays during term time

As of 1 September 2013, Headteachers will no longer be able to grant any leave of absence for family holidays, unless there are exceptional circumstances which support the request being made.

Where a family chooses to take a holiday or any leave during term time, the absences will be coded as unauthorised, and as such Headteachers may request that the Local Authority issues a Penalty Notice.

If you have been issued with a Penalty Notice for an unauthorised absence of leave in Term-time you can pay the Penalty Notice here:

Pay a school Penalty Notice online

Late arrivals at school

Schools are legally required to take a register of pupils first thing in the morning and at some point, in the afternoon. The government advises that schools can keep the register open for up to 30 minutes although schools can set a shorter period.

If a pupil is late but the register is still open, they are marked as late. If the register has closed and there isn’t a satisfactory explanation, this may be classed as an unauthorised absence (U code). Repeated late attendance (multiple U codes) can lead to legal action.

Authorised non-attendance at school

The High Court has confirmed that schools, not parents, authorise absence.

  • Schools must use the National Attendance Codes to ensure consistency in the treatment and recording of attendance and absence.
  • In most cases, illness will be the reason for absence (code I). However, schools can also authorise absence for other exceptional circumstances (code C). Such decisions will take place at the Headteacher’s discretion. An example would be bereavement, whereas unacceptable reasons might include a shopping trip or a birthday.

Absence from school

You must tell your school if your child is not able to attend. This might be because they are ill or have experienced a family emergency. It is up to your school to decide if they will authorise the absence or not.

If the headteacher does not agree they will record it on the register as an unauthorised absence. If this happens a lot, it may lead to school seeking medical evidence to support the absence.

If your child is ill, they should return to school as soon as they can. The NHS: Healthier Together guide provides you with advice on common childhood illnesses and when children can return to school.

If your child does not attend school regularly

Parents and pupils should be supported at school and Local Authority level to overcome barriers to regular attendance, through a wide range of assessment and intervention strategies.

Your school will try to help you get your child back into education. They should contact you in the first instance to raise concerns about your child’s attendance. They may arrange meetings with you to explore how they can support your child to re-engage in their learning and be able to attend. If they see no improvement, they will ask us for help. You will be able to find out more about your school's attendance policy on their website.

Where parental co-operation is either absent or insufficient in this process, legal sanctions can be used as a means of enforcing attendance but only as a last resort.

Parents may be prosecuted if they fail to ensure their child receives an education. The following sections of the Education Act 1996 apply:

  • Section 444(1): if “a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil fails to attend regularly” at the school. This leads to a fine of up to £1000 per parent.
  • Section 444(1A): if “the parent knows that his child is failing to attend regularly at the school and fails to cause him to do so” without reasonable justification. This aggravated offence leads to a fine of up to £2500 per parent and/or up to 3 months imprisonment.

The only grounds for challenge in law to an offence under Section 444 are:

  • The child was absent for medical reasons (parents/carers should obtain medical evidence to cover the periods of absence)
  • The Local Authority failed to provide transport when required to do so
  • The absences were due to religious observance
  • Permission was granted by the school or there was unavoidable cause

If you are worried about your child’s attendance the first thing to do is contact the school to discuss your concerns. If you need more help, you can contact us on

Sources of Further Information