Lateness, sickness, authorised and unauthorised absences and the consequences for parents.

Latest government advice

Pupils need to attend school regularly to benefit from their education. Missing out on lessons leaves children vulnerable to falling behind. Children with poor attendance tend to achieve less in both primary and secondary school.

The government expects schools and local authorities to:

  • promote good attendance and reduce absence, including persistent absence
  • ensure every pupil has access to full-time education to which they are entitled
  • act early to address patterns of absence
  • parents to perform their legal duty by ensuring their children of compulsory school age who are registered at school attend regularly
  • all pupils to be punctual to their lessons

School attendance: main guidance
School behaviour and attendance: parental responsibility measures


The law states that parent/carer(s) must ensure that their child regularly attends the school where they are registered. Should your child fail to attend school regularly legal action may be taken against you.

Once a child is registered in school, attendance is compulsory until the last Friday in June of the academic year in which the child turns 16 (Year 11). It is a parent's legal responsibility to ensure that their child, when of statutory school age, accesses education appropriate to age, needs and ability.

Under the terms of the education related provisions of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, parent/carer(s) may be issued with a penalty notice of £60 if:

  • you fail to ensure that your child attends school, or other education provision regularly
  • you allow your child to take leave of absence in term time without a school’s authorisation
  • you fail to return your child to school on an agreed date after a leave of absence
  • your child is found out of school, without permission, on two Truancy Sweeps, within the same school year
  • your child persistently arrives late for school after the register is closed.

Legal powers

We have legal powers to take action via the courts for persistent non-attenders.

Under Section 444(1) of the Education Act of 1996, parent/carer(s) can be prosecuted for failure to ensure regular school attendance via the Magistrate Court. The penalty for an offence under this act can be a fine up to £1,000.

There is a more serious offence under Section 444(1a) (in circumstances where the parent knows that his/her child is failing to attend school regularly and fails without reasonable justification to cause him/her to do so) for which there is a maximum fine of £2,500, a term of imprisonment of up to 3 months, or both. A warrant could be issued requesting the defendant to attend court for sentencing.

We can also take action via the Family Proceedings Court under Section 36 of the Children Act 1989 and apply for an education supervision order, making the local authority responsible for the education of the child. This action is taken to support parents.

We can serve school attendance orders under sections 437-443 of the Education Act 1996 in respect of pupils who are not registered at any school or registered to be receiving education rather than at school.

Speak to your school if you are worried

If you are concerned about your child’s attendance you should speak to staff at your child’s school.

Unauthorised absence or your child being frequently late could result in fine or prosecution.


Unauthorised absence or your child being frequently late could result in fine or prosecution.

Every school, by law, has to register pupils twice a day; first thing in the morning at the start of the school day, and again in the afternoon session. If a pupil fails to attend or arrives late they can be marked as an absence for that session.

If a pupil of compulsory school age is absent, the register must show whether the absence was authorised (acceptable) or unauthorised (where no acceptable reason is given for absence). Only the school can approve the reason for absence.

It is a parent’s responsibility to ensure their children arrive at school on time. Lateness can disrupt the learning of others and can result in a pupil feeling greater stress and achieving poorer outcomes.

90 per cent attendance means that your child is absent from lessons for the equivalent of one half day every week.

Over five years this is the equivalent of about one half of a school year.

Research shows a close link between attendance at school and a child’s achievement. Being late adds up to a loss of learning.

All time out of school affects learning and achievement for both pupils. Please make sure your child arrives at school on time.

If a pupil arrives after registration has closed the absence will be recorded as unauthorised for that session. If this persists legal action, in the form of a penalty notice or prosecution under Section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996 may follow.

Minutes late per day Equivalent of missing
5 Minutes 3.4 school days a year
10 Minutes 6.9 school days a year
15 Minutes 10.3 school days a year
20 Minutes 13.8 school days a year
30 Minutes 20.7 school days a year

Family holidays and extended leave during term time

Amendments to the registration regulations, which came into force in September 2013, remove references to family holidays and extended leave as well as the threshold of ten school days.

The amendments make it clear that headteachers may not grant any leave of absence during term time unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Should a school not agree to grant leave and parents take their child on holiday regardless, this will be counted as unauthorised absence (truancy).

The school and our county attendance officer may consider issuing a penalty fine of £60.

Absence due to sickness

Where a pupil is absent due to sickness and is genuinely unable to attend school, then the school, after being informed, may authorise a child's absence.

It is important to keep the school informed if your child is going to be absent at the start of the day. The school will have a clear process for you to follow.

In law, only a headteacher can authorise a pupil's absence, and may require additional evidence such as a letter from your GP.

Schools will monitor and engage with parents as soon as a pattern of absence becomes apparent.

Contacting the school about illness

Inform the school before 9.30am on every day your child is absent from school due to illness.

By law, only the headteacher can authorise your child’s absence.

It is important to keep the school informed if your child is going to be absent as soon as possible at the start of the day. The school will have a clear process for you to follow to inform them if your child will not be attending.

Telephone the school to tell them that your child will be staying at home. The school will ask about the nature of the illness and the expected duration of absence from school.

If your child is frequently absent due to illness the school may request permission to contact your GP for confirmation that they are too ill to attend school.  The school may need to set up a plan in consultation with medical professions to help support your child if an illness is making full time school difficult to manage.

If it becomes clear that your child will be away from school for longer than expected, phone the school to explain this as soon as possible.

If your child attends school and feels unwell during the school day the school will contact you to arrange collection.

Common illnesses

Most illnesses can be classified as one of a few minor health conditions. Whether or not you send your child to school will depend on how severe you judge the illness to be. This guidance can help you to make that judgement. If you’re concerned about your child’s health, consult a health professional.

Questions to ask as a parent or carer

When deciding whether or not your child is too ill to attend school. Ask yourself:

  • Is your child well enough to carry out the activities of the school day? If not, keep your child at home and consult your GP as appropriate.
  • Does your child have a condition that could be passed on to other children or school staff? If so, keep your child at home.
  • Would you take a day off work if you had this condition? If so, keep your child at home.

Cough and cold

A child with a minor cough or cold may attend school. If the cold is accompanied by raised temperature, shivers or drowsiness, the child should stay off school, visit the GP and return to school 24 hours after they’re feeling better. If your child has a more severe and long-lasting cough, consult your GP, who can provide guidance on whether the child should stay off school.

Raised temperature

If your child has a raised temperature, they shouldn’t attend school. They can return 24 hours after they’re feeling better.


Rashes can be the first sign of many infectious illnesses such as chickenpox and measles. Children with these conditions shouldn’t attend school. If your child has a rash, check with your GP or practice nurse before sending them to school.


A child with a minor headache doesn’t usually need to be kept off school. If the headache is more severe or is accompanied by other symptoms such as raised temperature or drowsiness, then keep the child off school and consult your GP.

Vomiting and diarrhoea

Children with these conditions should be kept off school. They can return 48 hours after their symptoms disappear. Most cases of vomiting or diarrhoea get better without treatment, but if symptoms persist, consult your GP.

Sore throat

A sore throat alone doesn’t have to keep a child from school. If it’s accompanied by a raised temperature, the child should stay at home.

Taking part in a performance

Leave of absence may not be given to enable a pupil to undertake employment except in accordance with the performance licence. Absence from school will not be authorised for an unlicensed performance.

School retain the right to refuse requests for absence.

Frequently asked questions

Click on the question to see the answer.

What a parenting contract is

If a pupil’s attendance falls below 90 per cent, the school may offer a parenting contract to the parent in consultation with the local authority and in accordance with government guidance on education-related parenting contracts. These can be a useful tool in identifying and focusing on the issues behind the poor attendance and in developing a productive relationship with parents to help address these issues.

My family religion means my child may need to miss some schooldays at school.  What should I do?

Parents may request leave of absence for days of religious observance related to the family religion. If you are likely to do this you must inform the school and give as much notice as possible of the exact dates required. Schools will take advice from local religious leaders as to the appropriate number of days to allow as authorised absence for each festival.

My child has a medical/dental appointment in school time. Should I re-book it in non school time?

Schools request that parents make all but emergency appointments for medical and dental checkups outside of the school day. If this is not possible please give as much notice to the school of the appointment. If you need to collect your child from school for an appointment, you will need to sign them out of the building and back in again when you return. This is a legal requirement for health and safety purposes. Your child must attend school before and after the appointment where appropriate so that as little of the school day is missed as possible.

My child doesn’t want to attend school. What should I do?

Most children will, at some point, tell you that they don’t want to go to school. This is quite normal. Always do your best to find out what has upset them and talk to your child about how to resolve any problems.

If your child says they are not happy going to school, or show other signs of reluctance i.e. recurrent minor ailments that quickly get better once the school day is underway, reluctance to do homework or share information from school, friendship difficulties, concerns about bullying, including cyberbullying etc., speak to a member of school staff as soon as possible.

Try to be calm and organised at the beginning of the day so that there is little opportunity for your child to become anxious.  Praise achievement at school, however small. Make sure you understand and support the school’s behaviour and attendance policies, giving your child clear guidance about what is expected of them and why. If the problems persist ask for professional advice and support through the school.

What is compulsory school age?

Compulsory school age is from 1 September, 1 January or 1 April following their fifth birthday to the last Friday in June in the school year in which they are sixteen.

My child says that they attend some of their lessons at college now. Is that possible?

As your child progresses through secondary school, he/she may have the opportunity to access a range of alternative education provision off the school site, e.g. at college, with a specialist provider or as an alternative to exclusion.  Attendance at all such provision remains compulsory and is registered and monitored in exactly the same way as school attendance.

Many alternative providers will ask parents and students to sign attendance contracts to underline the importance of consistent attendance – such contracts should make it clear who parents need to ring to explain why a child is absent from such provision. In many cases, alternative provision will be for part of a school week and the mainstream school will continue to provide the remainder of the student’s weekly timetable.

Another form of alternative provision is work experience, offered to all students in Year 10 and many in Year 11. In this case too, attendance remains compulsory and employers offering work experience placements (including students’ friends and family) will be asked to register the student’s attendance and report any absences to the school as a matter of urgency. Your child’s school should have informed you of any changes and if you are in any doubt contact the school to clarify.

My child has a paper round who do I need to inform?

From the age of 13, children may legally seek part time employment outside of school hours. Any school age child who is employed must obtain a work permit. Any employer employing a school age child without a permit is committing an offence.

Schools will be asked whether employment is likely to have a negative impact on the student’s learning. If the student’s education suffers as a result of the employment, his/her employment permit may be revoked.

Students, who work without a permit, do so in breach of the law and will not be covered by their employer’s Public Liability Insurance or under health and safety legislation in the event of any accident.

My child has the chance to appear in a film. Can they be excused from school to perform?

Children of all ages may be involved in entertainment, whether on stage, TV or radio or as a model. Such children are usually required to obtain a licence in order to perform.

Children of compulsory school age must obtain a performance licence if they wish to perform during school hours or if they perform for more than 4 days in a 6 month period or if they are paid to perform. If performance impacts on educational outcomes, permission may be denied/ withdrawn. For further information read our page on child performance licences.

I’m going abroad on a work assignment and need to take my child. Is that ok?

On rare occasions, parents may have to take their children out of school for extended periods, e.g. if working abroad, returning to their country of birth etc. If it appears likely that you may have to do this, please make an urgent appointment to discuss the implications for your child’s education with the Headteacher who will talk through options for ensuring minimum disruption to his/her learning. It is at the Head’s discretion whether to authorise absence and they may remove your child from roll if they take extended absence from school.

If your child does not return on the agreed date, the school may either report your child as ‘Missing from Education’ to us and/or remove your child from the school roll.

Why can’t I authorise my child’s absence?

The decision to authorise an absence can only be taken by the headteacher, or the person designated by the headteacher to take this decision (The Education (Pupil Registration) Regulations 1995 as amended). If the school decides that the reason given is not valid and your child does not attend school, the absence will be unauthorised. 

Where a child has high levels of unauthorised absence, the matter may be referred to the County Attendance Team and legal action by the local authority could be considered.

The school will have an attendance policy which has been agreed by the school governors and will give details of how the school deals with attendance issues.