Behaviour and attendance guidance for parents/carers

Parental attitude has a key influence on a child's school attendance and parents/carers can do much to encourage even reluctant pupils to attend.

Good school attendance habits are best started early. Children learn from those around them and you as parents/carers set the standards and expectations for your child. Showing your child the importance of attending school every day not only helps your child to settle quickly when starting school but helps them to keep and maintain friendships and enjoy the school environment.

Be organised, have a plan, be consistent and involve your child.

You should:

  • create good routines for mornings at home so that your child can arrive punctually and they are properly equipped; this will also mean your mornings can start calmly too
  • make time to encourage and show interest. Chat to them about the things they have learnt, what friends they have made and even what they had for lunch! Remember children can be tired when coming out of school, so a short chat over a snack or later that evening may produce a better result than a long list of questions
  • read all school communications. A home/school diary can help with communication only when all parties use it as intended
  • attend school open evenings and functions
  • check your child understands the homework and that it has been completed. Support them in completing homework by creating a calm space for them to work in and set specific times during the week when homework should be done
  • share any education concerns your child or you may have with the appropriate member of school staff
  • set realistic boundaries and sanctions (do not impose boundaries that neither your child nor you will be able to keep, eg grounding a child for a month will not work, short periods will have much more effect)
  • avoid absence from school wherever possible – try to make doctors and dental appointments out of school hours. Absence means your child will miss out on the academic studies and will also learn that education is not the main priority within the family. This can have a lifelong effect. 
Your responsibilities as a parent

By law, all children of compulsory school age (normally five to 16) must receive a suitable full-time education. As a parent, you have a legal responsibility to make sure this happens – either by registering your child at a school or by making other arrangements to give them a suitable, full-time education. Once your child is registered at a school, you are legally responsible for making sure they attend regularly. This means your child should not have sessions of unauthorised absence.

Section 576 of the Education Act 1996 defines parent as:

  • all natural parents, whether they are married or not;
  • any person who, although not a natural parent, has parental responsibility for a child or young person;
  • any person who, although not a natural parent, has care of a child or young person.

Having care of a child or young person means that a person with whom the child lives and who looks after the child, irrespective of what their relationship is with the child, is considered to be a parent in education law.


Recording your child’s attendance

Schools must take an attendance register twice a day, which is a legal document that is kept for five years. Any absences will be recorded with a specific code depending on the type of absence. Absences fall into two main categories:

  • authorised – those which schools can give you permission for
  • unauthorised – those which they will not.

Examples of absences which the school is unlikely to authorise can include:

  • sickness of a parent, or other family member
  • inadequate clothing for school
  • child being used as a carer
  • problems with transport
  • non-urgent medical treatment
  • school refusal or truancy
  • days off for birthdays, shopping trips
  • family holiday since new regulations came in September 2013.

If your child needs a leave of absence you must ask for permission in advance. The headteacher can only approve the absence if he/she views them to be exceptional reasons. The headteacher also decides on the number of days to authorise or unauthorise. You can request a leave of absence form from your school.

What do I do if my child is unwell?

Most schools will have an attendance policy which is aligned to the expectations and guidance of Hampshire local authority, including the specific procedures a parent/carer should follow in the event of their child needing to be absent from school. Parents/carers are advised to refer to the school’s own procedures alongside this guidance.

As a parent/carer you should notify the school on the first day your child is unable to attend due to illness. Generally this is done by telephone and many schools now have an answerphone facility specifically for this purpose. Schools should authorise absences, unless in very rare cases when they have cause for concern about the genuineness of an illness. If this is in doubt, schools can request that medical evidence is provided, such as a prescription or an appointment card; a note from a doctor may not be necessary. Schools can record the absence as unauthorised if they are not satisfied that the illness is genuine but should advise parents/carers if they intend to do so.

You should let the school know:

  • the nature of the illness (although you may wish to talk confidentially about this)
  • whether your child has seen their GP, or whether an appointment has been made for some other specialist service
  • how long you expect your child to be absent from school
  • the prognosis for the child’s recovery.

For absences that are expected to last up to 15 school days and that are not part of a pattern of a recurring illness, the parents/carers should discuss with the school whether they are willing to organise for work and homework to be set as soon as the child is able to cope with it. The school should also agree with you how completed work will be collected, marked and returned.

Why is high attendance important to my child's education?

As a parent/carer you want the best for your children. Having a good education is an important factor in opening up more opportunities in adult life. Did you know that:

  • a child who is absent a day of school per week misses an equivalent of two years of their school life
  • 90% of young people with absence rates below 85% fail to achieve five or more good grades of GCSE and around one third achieve no GCSEs at all
  • poor examination results limit young people’s options and poor attendance suggests to colleges and employers that these students are unreliable
  • poor school attendance is also closely associated with crime a quarter of school age offenders have truanted repeatedly
  • at least 1 million children take at least one half day off a year without permission
  • 7.5 million school days are missed each year through unauthorised absence.

GCSEs may seem a long way off for you and your child but all absence at any stage leads to gaps in your child’s learning. This in turn can:

  • mean that they fall behind in work
  • affect their motivation
  • affect their enjoyment of learning
  • lead to poor behaviour
  • affect their desire to attend school regularly affect their confidence in school
  • mean they miss out on the social life of school and extra curricular opportunities and experiences
  • affect their ability to have or keep friendships.
Family holidays and school holidays

Children have 13 weeks annual holiday from school and school holiday dates are published well in advance online. As such, all parents/carers are expected wherever possible to plan and take their family holidays at this time so as not to disrupt their children’s education. Education law states that parents do not have a right to take their child out of school for a holiday during term time. Only in exceptional circumstances may a headteacher grant permission for leave; and it is the headteachers decision on whether the absence is exceptional and how many days to approve.

Parents/carers who take their child out of school without the absence being agreed and authorised by written permission from the school can be issued with a penalty fine.

See the Department for Education attendance guidance for more information

Possible penalties for non-attendance

Once you have registered your child at a school it is your responsibility to make sure that she/he attends regularly and punctually. If you fail to do so the Local Authority has a statutory duty to consider legal action to enforce school attendance.

There are a number of legal measures that the Local Authority can pursue, these include:

  • being issued a voluntary parenting contract
  • being included in the fast track system which means you will be given 12 weeks to improve your child's attendance
  • receiving a penalty notice. This is a fine of £60 per parent/carer for periods of unauthorised absence such as truancy, holidays in term time, lateness, unauthorised absence during formal exams, schools assessment or testing or poor patterns of attendance/punctuality
  • being prosecuted in the Magistrates’ Court. This means you could receive a community order, a fine of up to £2,500 per parent/carer or a custodial sentence
    your child being issued with an education supervision order. This is an order where the child attends court and certain measures are put in place regarding attendance at school.
Update to parents regarding term-time absence, issuing of penalty notices and the HCC Code of Conduct in the spring term 2017

Term time absence: Final position following Isle of Wight Council v Platt decision in Supreme Court

Updated June 2017

Further to previous communications, the Supreme Court has now delivered its judgement in relation to the Isle of Wight Council's appeal which sought clarification on what is meant by “fails to attend regularly” in the context of a prosecution for unauthorised non-attendance at school.

The Supreme Court said that “regular” means “in accordance with the rules published by the school” and rejected the view that regular meant “sufficiently frequently”. Full details of this judgement can be found on the Supreme Court website: www.supremecourt.uk.

This clarifies the position regarding term time absence and it is clear that schools can determine whether an absence is authorised or not. In coming to their decision schools need to abide by Hampshire County Council's Code of Conduct when issuing Penalty Notices. All schools, maintained and academies, should be implementing the Code of Conduct and warning parents of the likelihood of legal action if absence is not authorised. A copy of the Code of Conduct for legal intervention is available on the right hand side of this page together with a leaflet which explains how Penalty Notices are issued.