The law states that all children of school age (between 5 and 16 years) must receive a consistent and suitable education either through regularly attending school or receiving an education through alternative methods. If a child is registered with a school, parents will have a legal responsibility to ensure that their child is in school on a regular basis and not prolonged school absence.
The law in England and Wales states that parents are obliged to ensure that children receive a full time education which meets the requirements of the child. It is acceptable however for a child to miss school due to an unexpected family situation or in the event of illness.
The problem arises when parents have little regard to their child’s schooling and allow them to spend day after day at home or in the local area rather than sending them to school. These parents are not demonstrating their responsibility nor are they exercising moral rights or common sense.
Regular truancy from school not only causes problems for parents but it can have a significant impact on the child’s education, resulting in poor performance and children having difficulty in school. Absence rates are also outlined in school league tables.
Schools and local education authorities retain the legal right to deal with regular school absence in a number of ways. Any student registered with a school can miss school but only in certain situations. This is when the child is too ill to attend or whether the school has approved the absence previously. Usual reasons for school absence include:
- Medical – Ill health is one of the main reasons why children miss school. Although this is considered to be an acceptable reason for school health and safety, the school can request medical certificates if the student is away from school for more than a week.
- Emergency – Emergencies can and do happen, however there are only certain circumstances where this would warrant absence from school. Children cannot be kept away from school to look after relatives, siblings or family members who are wounded or ill.
- Religion – On particular religious days which hold special relevance for students who hold a certain belief this is not a suitable excuse for absence from school.
- Transport – Under certain circumstances, the Local Education Authority is required to provide transport for schools. However lack of transport to school can be a valid reason for children missing school.
Although there are countless reasons why children may miss school, the above are the main reasons.
When a student needs to be absent from school it is essential that parents notify the school as far in advance as possible. Permission is usually granted unless there is an important reason for declining the request.
If a child is ill in school and needs to be absent it is important for parents to contact the school as soon as practically possible. This can usually be carried out over the telephone. Although it sounds like a basic task, it is significant in helping schools and parents monitor truancy. When the child is well enough to return to school, parents are encouraged to write a letter to explain the absence.
This will also help the teachers if the student requires any additional support or medication once they return to school.
In some circumstances, the school may decide to obtain certain orders:
- School Attendance Order – Issued to make sure that all children in a local area are listed on the roll of a school
- Education Supervision Order – The Local Authority may request an ESO which assigns a designated person to offer the required support. They will also advise and support you in ensuring that your child returns to education.
Help From Local Authority
If you are experiencing problems with your child attending school, there are various support mechanisms in place to help. The school and local authority can help families who need it through strategies such as a parenting contract. These contracts are incredibly useful which are entirely voluntary and they are designed to encourage collaboration to ensure that students attend school on a regular basis.
When all else has failed, the school may decide to issue a fixed penalty notice. These can be issued by authorised staff, head teachers or police officers. The penalty is currently £50 for each absence which rises to £100 if the fine remains unpaid after within 28 days. If the parent fails to pay the fine, they can be prosecuted.
About the Author
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers team and posted by Lloyd Barrett, Admin & Customer Services Manager for online advice service Expert Answers. Expert Answers provides legal advice to users in the UK who post a question on their secure platform.