Non-attendance at school and the law

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 fifth 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

If you don't register your child at a school or make suitable alternative education arrangements, we may issue a school attendance order. This order requires 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. If with support from the school's attendance officer and/or the Local Authority, your child’s attendance does not improve, the Local Authority will consider one of two actions:

  • Penalty Notice. We can give each parent a fine of £60, which rises to £120 each if you do not pay within 21 days. If payment is not received within 28 days from the issue of the penalty notice, we may prosecute you for the offence of 'irregular attendance'. You could then be subject to a fine of up to £1,000 on conviction.

  • Prosecution in the Magistrates' court. Both parents could get a fine of up to £2,500, a community order or a jail sentence up to three months each. The court may also give you a Parenting Order.

The offence will apply to each child individually. Both parents are liable for the offence. The Education Act considers each 'responsible adult' as a 'parent'. This includes a family friend or relative if the child lives with them and they provided day-to-day care.

Additional Information

On some occasions parent/ guardians may be contacted to request that information is provided concerning their child/rens school attendance. If you have received a letter concerning this, please complete the online form following the link below.

Paying your penalty notice online

If you have received a penalty notice for your child's non-attendance at school, you can pay it online.

Please note:

  • Timescales are from the date stated on your letter.
  • Payment is the acceptance of liability.
  • Pay online by credit or debit card. We do not accept payment by instalments.
  • Ensure that payment made is for the correct amount.
  • You must enter each penalty notice number individually if paying multiple penalty charges.
  • You must provide an email address which we use to communicate with you. 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.

The prosecution process

Should Cambridgeshire County Council take legal action against you, we will serve you with a summons to appear before a Magistrates' court. You will receive a copy of a prosecution court statement produced by the Local Authority and possibly further statements from a member of school staff and supporting documents ('exhibits'). 

  • Should you fail to attend, the court may consider issuing a warrant for your arrest or 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 for your child's non-attendance. 
  • The Magistrates will then decide how they intend to deal with the case.

Possible outcomes

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 get 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
  • a 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
  • a Parenting Order – the Magistrates may order you to attend parenting classes

Education Supervision Order

The court may also direct that the Council considers applying for an Education Supervision order. The Local Authority may also decide on this option as an alternative to prosecution. Applications for education supervision orders take place in the family court. 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 your school to ensure that your child attends school. Should your child return to school and attend regularly, no further legal action will be necessary.

Who can help

You should contact the Attendance Officer within your child’s school. If you feel that your child’s educational needs are not being met, you can contact the schools Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO). The Local Authority offers support to schools through consultations and best practice to support non-school attendance.