Roles and responsibilities
Section 576 of the Education Act 1996 defines “parent” as:
- All natural (biological) 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.
Parents/carers have a legal duty to ensure that their children of compulsory school age receive a suitable full-time education. They can do this by enrolling them at a school or taking responsibility for their learning at home (elective home education).
Once enrolled at a school it is the parent/carers legal responsibility to ensure that their child attends regularly.
Parents/carers are encouraged to maintain their child’s good attendance by:
- ensuring their child understands the importance of punctuality and school attendance and how this will help them in the future
- talking to the school if there are any issues which might affect their child’s learning
- not taking holidays in term time
- Parents/carers should always contact their child’s school on the first day of absence and work in partnership with the school to ensure regular attendance.
If a child who is of compulsory school age who is registered at school and fails to attend regularly at the school, his parent is guilty of an offence (Section 444 (1) Education Act 1996).
Schools’ responsibilities relating to attendance are detailed in the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 (and subsequent amendments) and Department of Education attendance guidance. They include:
- maintaining accurate admission and attendance registers
- taking a register twice each day (at the start of the morning session and once during the afternoon)
- coding absence and attendance in line with the Department of Education guidance
- complying with the statutory registration and deletion procedures, which includes notifying the Local Authority of changes to pupils on roll.
Schools are encouraged to:
- use clear and consistently applied systems and processes to improve attendance, ensuring they are inclusive and appropriate for all pupils
- utilise positive attendance incentives such as rewards
- make sure escalation procedures to address absence are and understood by pupils and families, appropriately initiated and proactive.
School attendance, safeguarding and pastoral support policies should clearly outline:
- the key principles
- expectations of pupils
- responsibilities of parents/carers
- rewards and consequences
- roles and responsibilities of staff
- frequency of review and impact.
Where schools have concerns about pupil absence, they should seek to intervene early and consider offering Early Help. Schools should maintain a record of all contact (successful and attempted) regarding pupil absence, with the pupil, parent/carers and other agencies. Schools will be required to produce this as evidence if legal intervention is later deemed appropriate.
Local Authority responsibility
The Local Authority encourages schools to have a clear process for how attendance issues should be managed and escalated if unresolved. Schools should have clear steps of intervention and involve all relevant agencies such as Early Help, Social Care, and SEND Support Services.
When a referral is received by the Warwickshire Attendance Service we will work with schools by:
- requesting that parents and pupils are supported at school to overcome barriers to regular attendance.
- coordinating strategies and services to ensure that messages on attendance are consistent and that information is shared appropriately by the relevant services involved
- using a range of assessment and intervention strategies, where appropriate, to build relationships with families of persistently absent pupils and provide practical support to unblock barriers to attendance
- considering the use of parental responsibility measures (including fast track, parenting contracts and parenting orders, education supervision orders, penalty notices, and ultimately prosecution) and using supportive measures alongside sanctions to change parental behaviour.
The High Court has confirmed that schools, not parents, authorise absence. Parents may be prosecuted if they fail to ensure their child receives an education. The following sections of the Education Act 1996 apply:
- Section 444(1): if “a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil fails to attend regularly” at the school. This leads to a fine of up to £1000 per parent.
- Section 444(1A): if “the parent knows that his child is failing to attend regularly at the school and fails to cause him to do so” without reasonable justification. This aggravated offence leads to a fine of up to £2500 per parent and/or up to 3 months imprisonment.
The only grounds for challenge in law to an offence under Section 444 are where:
- the child was absent for medical reasons (parents/carers should obtain medical evidence to cover the periods of absence)
- the Local Authority failed to provide transport when required to do so
- the absences were due to religious observance
- permission was granted by the school or there was unavoidable cause.
The Education (Penalty Notices) (England) Regulations 2007 and subsequent amendments allows Local Authorities to consider issuing penalty notices for irregular attendance at school. Penalty notices must be issued in a manner which conforms to all requirements of the Human Rights Act and all relevant Equal Opportunities Legislation. To this aim each Local Authority is required to have a Code of Conduct in relation to issuing penalty notices.
Failure to discharge the offence via a penalty notice will result in action being taken by the Local Authority. The prosecution is not for the non payment of the notice but is for failure to ensure regular attendance at school.