Non-attendance and the law
All parents have a legal duty to ensure that their child receives an education suitable to his/her age, ability and aptitude and any special needs. Most parents fulfil their legal obligation by registering their child in a school.
Children must legally be in education between the school term after their 5th birthday and the last Friday in June in the school year they turn 16.
The Education and Skills Act 2008 increased the minimum age at which young people in England can leave learning. Raising the participation age means that young people must continue with some form of education or training until they are 18.
School attendance order
Should you fail to register your child at a school and not make suitable alternative education arrangements, the Council may issue a school attendance order requiring you to register your child at a named school.
Non-attendance at school
Failure to ensure a child’s regular attendance at school is a criminal offence and if, with support from the school's attendance officer and / or the local authority Education Welfare Officer, your child’s attendance fails to improve, the Education Welfare Officer will consider one of two courses of action:
Penalty fine of £60 (if paid within 21 days), rising to £120 (if paid after 21 days but before 28 days have lapsed). Failing to pay the fine will result in prosecution.
- Prosecution in the magistrates' court.
It is the responsibility of each parent to ensure regular school attendance and failure to do so will result in each parent being charged with the offence. If convicted, both parents will be punished by the courts, resulting in a fine of up to £2,500 for each parent and / or up to 3 months custodial sentence.
If a child lives with a family friend or relative for a period of time who has day to day care of the child, each responsible adult is considered as 'Parent' under the Education Act and can equally be charged with the same offence and prosecuted.
If you have received a penalty notice for you child's non-attendance at school, you can pay it online.
- Timescales are from the date stated on your letter.
- Payment is acceptance of liability.
- Payment is made online by credit or debit card.
- Ensure that payment made is for the correct amount.
- You must enter each penalty notice number individually if paying more than one penalty charge.
- You must provide an email address which we use to communicate with you.
- We do not accept payment by instalments or cheque.
- There is no right of appeal; any queries about this notice should be made to the Education Office whose details are on the penalty notice letter.
- If payment is not received within 28 days from the issue of the penalty notice you may be prosecuted for the offence of irregular attendance and could be subject to a fine of up to £1,000 on conviction.
The prosecution process
The PACE interview
Should your child’s attendance fail to improve, in spite of help from the school and an Education Welfare Officer, you will be invited to a formal PACE interview held under caution.
- A school representative and any others involved with you and your child may also be invited. If you wish, you may have a legal representative at this meeting.
- Before the meeting begins, you will be formally cautioned under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984.
- You will be asked a set of questions under formal caution. The aim of this interview will be to establish if an offence has been committed under the Education Act 1996.
- A record of the PACE interview will be given to you and shared with the Legal Panel who will make a final decision on legal intervention appropriate to your case. The decision made will be communicated to you in writing.
Should Cambridgeshire County Council decide to take legal action against you, you will be served with a summons to appear before a magistrates court. You will receive a copy of the statement of the Education Welfare Officer and possibly a member of school staff, and any supporting documents ('exhibits').
- Should you fail to attend, the court may consider issuing a warrant for your arrest or decide to hear the case in your absence.
- The case will be heard by the magistrates. A court usher will be available to help you.
- The court clerk will read the charge. You will be asked to plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. Should you plead not guilty, the case will be adjourned to a future date. Should you plead guilty, the case will be heard immediately.
- The court will first hear the evidence from the prosecution.
- You or your legal representative will then be able to either make the case for the defence (if you have pleaded not guilty), or (if you have pleaded guilty) explain any reasons why your child has not attended school regularly.
- The magistrates will then decide how they intend to deal with the case.
Should you have pleaded guilty' or be found guilty', the sentencing / disposal options available to the magistrates are:
- a fine of up to £2,500
- a conditional discharge – you will be given a set amount of time in which to improve your child’s attendance. Should you fail the Council may bring a further prosecution against you and, if found guilty, you will be sentenced for both offences
- an absolute discharge – the case is proved but you will not be subject to a penalty, although you will receive a conviction
- deferred sentence – a new court date will be arranged, during which time you will be expected to have taken steps to improve your child’s school attendance. Sentence will be passed at this new hearing
- imprisonment - only for the more serious (aggravated) offence but it can be for up to three months
- parenting order – the magistrates may order you to attend parenting classes
Education supervision order
The court may also direct that the Council considers making an application for an education supervision order. The Education Welfare Officer may also decide on this option as an alternative to prosecution. Applications for education supervision orders are heard in the family court and, if granted, you and your child will be directed by the court to co-operate with the Council to ensure that your child attends school regularly.
What happens next?
Regardless of the outcome in court, you will continue to receive support from the Education Welfare Officer and the school to ensure that your child attends school. Should your child return to school and attend regularly, no further legal action will be taken against you.
How we can help
You can contact an Education Welfare Officer (EWO) through your child's school.