Absence from school

Compulsory child education

All children of compulsory school age (5-16) should receive suitable education, either by regular attendance at school or through other arrangements. It is the parent’s responsibility to ensure their child is receiving this. If a child is registered at school, parents have the primary legal responsibility for ensuring that their child attends school regularly.

In addition, all 16 year olds must remain in education or training until their 18th birthday.

Schools are legally required to maintain an attendance register, and they must tell the local authority about pupils who are regularly absent or have missed at least 10 school days without the school’s authority.

It is, of course, necessary for a child to miss school when ill, or faced with an unexpected family situation. In recent years, the government has cracked down on school absences and schools have tightened their policies on requests for authority to take a child on holiday. An increasing number of fines are being handed out to parents, and some parents have been taking successful action against their local authority after being issued with fines for a child’s non-attendance at school.

Reasons why a child could be absent from school

A small minority of parents do not take their child’s education seriously and allow them to remain at home, or go out for the day, or on holiday without their school’s permission. In addition, some children play truant – ending up with the parent being contacted by their school about their child’s absence. There is a direct correlation between absence from school and poor educational standards in the UK – a problem the government has been seeking to address.

Schools and local authorities have the legal right to take action for non-attendance. Any child registered with a school can miss school in very restricted circumstances: when the child is too ill to attend, or when the school has pre-authorised the absence. Illness and emergencies are a part of normal life. If your child is ill, the school should be informed as soon as reasonably practical so that this can be entered on the school’s register.

However, apart from an emergency, children must attend school. If an emergency arises and you have to take your child out of school, or cannot send them to school, you must inform the school. Evidence may well be required. Note that schools are under a safeguarding duty to investigate any unexplained absences under Section 175 of the Education Act 2002. This is for the child’s safety and protection.

Reasons for authorised absence from school include the following:

Medical grounds

Ill health is the leading cause of absence from school, as are appointments with doctors or dentists. Though considered as a legitimate reason for the health and safety of all, the school can ask for medical certificates for any absence of more than a week, and proof of a medical appointment.

Religious reasons

Certain days hold special relevance for various religious communities, including Christmas and Easter for Christians, Eid for Muslims, Diwali for Hindus, and Passover for Jews, etc.

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For more information on:

  • Lack of transport
  • Other reasons
  • Requesting absence from school
  • School Attendance Order (SAO)
  • Education Supervision Order (ESO)
  • Support on school attendance
  • Prosecution
  • Penalty Notices