School attendance and the law

Information for parents

School Attendance and the Law

By law, all children of compulsory school age must receive appropriate education. Compulsory school age means that children aged between 5 and 18 years, must either be registered at school, or have alternative arrangements agreed by the Local Authority (LA). The government has increased the age to which all young people in England must continue in education or training, requiring them to continue until the end of the academic year in which they turn 17 from 2013 and until their 18th birthday from 2015.

If you refuse to register your child at a suitable school, without good reason, you may receive a school attendance order– a legal document requiring the child to be register at a school.

If your child is registered at a school, you must make sure the child attends that school regularly. If you do not, the LA may take legal proceedings against you.

The Education Welfare Team

The Education Welfare Team has a legal responsibility to monitor school attendance on behalf of the LA. When there is concern about a child’s attendance, the school will refer this to the Education Welfare Team. Education Welfare Officers (EWOs) will contact the parents and the child to discuss the absences and give help and support with any difficulties which may affect the child’s attendance.

You may contact the Education Welfare Team yourself, for advice and support if you are concerned about your child’s attendance.

Penalty Warning Notices

A penalty warning notice is issued to ensure parents take steps to improve their child’s school attendance. When issued with a penalty warning notice parents must ensure that their child attends school for 20 school days during a set period of time. During this time the child must have no unauthorised absences. Failure to improve attendance may result in a Penalty Notice being issued.

Penalty Notices

If a parent fails to ensure that their child attends school regularly and takes no reasonable action to secure their attendance, a Penalty Notice can be issued. The law states that it will be presumed that you have received the Penalty Notice two days after it was posted to you. If you receive a Penalty Notice you have two options:

Option 1 - Within 21 days of receipt of the Penalty Notice pay £60

Option 2 - Between 21 and 28 days after receipt of the Penalty Notice pay £120

These payments can not be paid in installments.

If you do not pay the Penalty Notice you will automatically be summoned to appear in Court for an offence under Section 444(1) Education Act 1996.

If you pay as per option 1 or 2, then this discharges any and all liability on your behalf concerning the non-attendance of your child and will not result in you having to attend court or have a criminal conviction recorded against you.

Prosecution of Parents

The Education Welfare Team only prosecute parents as a last resort and after discussion with the school and other relevant persons. Evidence for prosecution will be supplied by the school in the form of an attendance certificate signed by the Head Teacher. The magistrates will accept this as a record of attendance from the school register. The Education Welfare Officer will write a statement for the court on the evidence of letters sent , meetings arranged and any visits or contact with the family.

Defense against Prosecution

If you are prosecuted, you may have a right to challenge the prosecution for the following reasons:

  • The head teacher authorised your child’s absence (the head teacher does not need to authorise a note sent by the parents).
  • Your child was absent due to sickness or unavoidable cause (sickness must be authorised by a medical certificate).
  • Your child was absent in connection with religious observance.
  • The LA failed to provide transport when required to do so.

If you wish to challenge the reasons for non –attendance recorded on the register, you must demonstrate that


If you are asked to attend court because of your child’s absence from school, you will be sent a summons, stating the date, time and place of the hearing. The Education Welfare Team will also send you copies of the prosecution evidence. This will include a statement made by the Education Welfare Officer and a copy of your child’s certificate of attendance over the specific period.

It may be in your interest to obtain legal advice. At the hearing you will be asked if you plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, the prosecutor will give a summary of the evidence. If you plead not guilty, you will be asked whether you wish for an adjournment to prepare your defense evidence.


If you have pleaded guilty or been found guilty, the magistrates have the power to impose a fine of up to £2500 per parent

and or you could receive a custodial sentence of up to three months. You may also be liable for any court costs .

Magistrates sometimes impose a conditional discharge which means if convicted for a further offence during the period of the conditional discharge you will be punished for the first offence

The Education Welfare Team

Call us on 01782 235355

If you wish to talk to someone face to face, please contact us before visiting, so we can be sure someone is available to see you.