School attendance and your legal responsibilities

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At a glance

An outline of your legal responsibilities as a parent with a child at school, including beating truancy and avoiding term-time holidays.

What the law says about attendance

As a parent, you’re legally responsible for making sure your child attends school regularly unless you’re home-educating.

Missing school causes severe disruption to a child’s education, and affects their performance in exams and chances later in life. The law is tough if it’s decided that you allowed your child to miss school (or ‘truant’) regularly. Truancy is best tackled together by parents and school staff. If you suspect your child has not gone to school, contact the school straight away and ask for help.

Tips on how to help prevent truancy

  • talk to your child about how important it is to attend school
  • ask regularly about how school is going
  • if your child complains of boredom, contact their class teacher, form teacher or head of year to find out more
  • find out if your child wants to avoid school for a reason that they’re frightened to tell you about - perhaps they’re being bullied

Parenting contracts

A parenting contract is a formal, signed agreement between a parent and either the local authority or the school’s governing body. It’s designed to tackle the causes of an individual child missing school.

Under the contract, the parent agrees to make sure their child attends school regularly over a specific period – and the LA/governing body agrees to provide specific support, eg help with transporting the child to school.

You can’t be forced to enter into a parenting contract. But if you’re offered one and refuse, it can be used as evidence against you if you’re prosecuted.

Term-time holidays

Wherever possible, you should take family holidays during school holidays. It’s especially disruptive for your child to miss school days at the start of the school year, when new routines are being set up.

If for some unavoidable reason you want to take your child on holiday in term time, you must send a letter asking permission from the headteacher. Schools will not agree to a child missing more than a total of ten days for family holidays in any school year unless there’s a very good reason.

If you take your child on holiday without the headteacher’s permission, your child will be taking unauthorised absence and you will be reported to the education welfare officer who will take legal action.

Penalty notices and prosecution

Headteachers, education welfare officers (also known as education social workers), whose job is to make sure that children attend school, and police officers may decide to give you penalty notices of £50 to £100 if your child regularly misses school and you have not taken action or asked for help. If you don’t pay a penalty notice you’ll be prosecuted.

Prosecution can result in a fine of up to £2,500, a jail sentence of up to three months or a community sentence.

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