School attendance

Parents or carers have a legal responsibility to make sure that their child is educated, but this does not have to be in school.

Parents' responsibilities

The law states:

“Every parent with children of compulsory school age must make sure that their children receive efficient full-time education suitable to their age aptitude and ability (and to any special education needs they may have) either by attending school or otherwise.”

Compulsory being the term after your child’s 5th birthday up to the last Friday in the month of June in the academic year of their 16th birthday.

Unless you can show that you are making your own arrangements for your child to be educated other than at school, you must ensure your child attends school regularly. You will be committing an offence if your child fails to attend school regularly without good reason or without the headteacher's permission. Only your child's school can authorise an absence.

In the 1996 Act, a parent is defined as either:

  • any natural parent
  • anyone who is not the natural parent of the child but has parental responsibility for the child
  • any person, who although not a natural parent, has care of a child


Warnings will be issued directly by schools. The number of warnings may vary from school to school. Contact your child's school for further details.

Term-time leave

Parents are not entitled to take their children on leave during term time. Leave may only be taken with written approval from the headteacher. A penalty notice may be issued for any term-time leave which hasn't been authorised by the headteacher.

The law and attendance

  • Parents are committing an offence if they fail to ensure their child's regular attendance at school or otherwise.
  • Prosecution could result in a fine of up to £2,500, a jail sentence of up to three months or a community sentence.
  • Parenting contract - where parents need support to prevent their child from truanting, schools and local authorities (LAs) may offer to enter into a parenting contract. This is a voluntary two sided agreement between the parent and school or LA under which the parent agrees to comply with certain requirements and the school or LA agrees to provide them with the support that they need.
  • Parenting Order – where parents fail to ensure regular attendance, do not to engage with support services or a parenting contract, a parenting order may be requested by the Local Authority or imposed by the Magistrates. This is not a voluntary agreement and requires that parents attend parenting classes for a maximum period of up to 12 weeks. The order may be given for a period of up to 12 months and would require parents to have regular contact with a supervising officer – usually the Education Welfare Officer.

Fixed penalty notices

A penalty notice requires the parent(s) to pay a fixed amount as a fine for their child's irregular attendance and avoid legal proceedings.

View and download the Fixed Penalty Notices code of conduct for schools (pdf, 163 KB)

Cost of Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN)

The fine is £60 to be paid within 21 days and is for each parent of each child. The 21 day period begins from the date shown on the Penalty Notice. If the fine isn't paid within 21 days, it rises to £120 for a further 7 days. If it's still not paid, the matter may then be sent for prosecution (not for the unpaid fine but the original offence).

The penalty notice will be sent to your home.

All payments are to be paid directly to Achieving for Children as outlined on the penalty notice form.

Appealing a penalty notice

There's no right of appeal once the penalty notice has been issued. You may face a prosecution in the Magistrates' Court for your child's non-attendance should you fail to pay the penalty notice fine.

Updated: 12 April 2018