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What is authorised and unauthorised absence?

Term-time absence must be approved by the head teacher. This is called authorised absence.

At the head teacher’s discretion, absence may be authorised for genuine illness, for reasons of religious belief or for family trauma. Check with your school to be sure you understand their policy on authorised absence.

Any absence not approved by the headteacher is an unauthorised absence.

Unauthorised absence includes things like time off for shopping, birthdays, holidays, visiting relatives, arriving late,  and having days out.

When is a child too ill to come to school?

We know that illness is sometimes unavoidable and to be expected. However it is very important to inform the school as soon as possible on the first day of absence, letting them know the reason, by phone, email, letter or in person at the school office so that the absence is authorised.

Not all illnesses need time off school. Here’s some useful NHS guidance on whether or not children can come in to school with different types of illness.

Parents and carers are legally responsible for making sure their children attend school regularly – unless they are home educated – and schools can offer help and support to any families who are struggling with attendance for any reason

Top tips to help prevent absence

  • talk to your child about how important it is to attend school
  • inspire them to think about what they would like to be when they grow up, and how school can help with that
  • ask regularly about how school is going
  • use the NHS guidance on illness
  • book all holidays outside of term time
  • book medical and dental appointments outside school hours if possible – and if not possible, ensure your child attends school before and after the appointment
  • if your child complains of boredom, contact their class teacher, form teacher or head of year to find out more
  • provide a good environment for study at home and ensure they have time set aside for homework
  • 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.
  • work with the school to address any attendance issues

School attendance - penalty notices

The law says that parents and carers whose children of compulsory school age are absent from school without good reason are committing an offence, and those parents may be prosecuted in a magistrates’ court.Section 23 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 introduced additional powers under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996 authorising local authorities to issue penalty notices in cases of unauthorised absence from school.

When will a penalty notice be issued?

The school attendance service will always aim to ensure schools, parents and carers work together to improve pupil attendance. However, we do have the responsibility to issue penalty notices in the following situations where unauthorised absence occurs:

  • following 10 sessions (five days) of unauthorised absence in a term
  • parentally-condoned absences
  • unauthorised leave of absence in term-time
  • late arrival at school after the register has closed

Parents and carers will always be issued with a formal written warning of the intention to issue a penalty notice, before the notice is sent out. The only exception to this is if you have a leave of absence in term time without permission of the school, as a penalty notice can be issued immediately in those circumstances.

On receipt of the warning, you will have 30school days to improve your child’s attendance. In that time your child must have no unauthorised absences from school. If your child’s attendance improves and there are no further unauthorised absences, you will not receive a penalty notice. Please be aware that there is no legal right of appeal once a notice has been issued against you.

How do I pay and what happens if I don’t pay the penalty notice?

Details of payment arrangements will be included on the penalty notice. The penalty must be paid in full. The penalty is £60 if paid within 21 days, increasing to £120 if paid between 21 and 28 days.

If you do not pay the penalty in full within 28 days of issue, the council is required to start legal proceedings against you in the local magistrates’ court for the original offence of failing to ensure your child attends school regularly. This may lead to a fine of up to £1,000.

Once payment of a penalty notice has been made parents and carers will no longer be liable for their child’s absence from school during the period to which the notice relates. But, if your child has further periods of unauthorised absence from school, the local authority may decide to issue further penalty notices.

Further information relating to penalty notices is available for download below.

Children missing education

Other councils and appropriate organisations can contact our dedicated officer dealing with children missing education by: