If your child is registered at a school he/she must by law attend that school regularly and punctually. Your child should only miss school if he/she is ill or unable to attend for some other unavoidable reason, including self-isolation as a consequence of COVID-19. 

If your child is absent and school either does not receive an explanation from you, or considers the explanation unsatisfactory, it will record your child’s absence as ‘unauthorised’.

Key information

A child becomes of compulsory school age when they reach the age of five and, where a parent has elected to register their child at school, they must start school in the term following their fifth birthday at the latest (although parents of many children choose to send them earlier). A child continues to be of compulsory school age until the last Friday in June in the school year that they reach the age of 16. After this age, the legal requirement to participate in education or training will fall to the young person.

Your child’s school will authorise most absences for acceptable reasons:

  • sickness
  • unavoidable medical or dental appointments (if possible, arrange these for after school or during school holidays)
  • days of religious observance
  • requirements to self-isolate (as advised by Public Health Service England)

Your rights and responsibilities

  • You have a legal duty to ensure that your child receives an appropriate education.
  • If your child is registered at a school, you must ensure that they attend.

What you can do

Make sure your child arrives at school on time. This encourages habits of good timekeeping and lessens any possible classroom disruption. If your child arrives after the register has closed without a good reason, this will be recorded as an ‘unauthorised’ absence for that session.

If your child has to miss school, it is vital that you let the school know why, preferably on the first morning of the absence (your child’s school will have an attendance policy explaining how this should be done).

If you know or think that your child is having difficulties attending school, you should contact the school. It is better to do this sooner rather than later, as most problems can be dealt with very quickly.

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Returning to school after lockdown

The lockdown has been challenging for all families, with some having been affected more due to their own vulnerabilities and circumstances. Undoubtedly the experiences of lockdown may present challenges when preparing a child to return to school.

School staff have a wealth of experience in supporting transition, and will ensure that all pupils receive the most appropriate tailored support, in their return at the beginning of the new academic year.

Parents who have concerns regarding their situation and vulnerabilities need to contact the school and have a full and candid dialogue with the Headteacher who can then see exactly what provision needs to be put in place. The school may need to consider a risk assessment that may be necessary for the child returning to school. 

The government expects parents to send their children to school full time. The Local Authority attendance team will continue to offer advice, and support schools to ensure that they adopt a supportive and nurturing approach in the first instance before any type of legal interventions are considered. However on the occasion that it is clear that all possible interventions have been offered and there are no other reasonable grounds to explain the absence then the attendance team may become involved to ensure the child’s attendance improves to a more suitable level.

Government school attendance consultation

Improving consistency of support

The Department for Education (DfE) recognises the impact that the pandemic is continuing to have on children’s education. Although recent trends in attendance levels have been largely driven by COVID-19, the government is determined to address the wider underlying causes of children not being in school, because it is the best place for their development.

The DfE are therefore consulting on four proposals to build on schools, trusts and local authorities’ existing work on attendance and improve consistency of attendance support for families across England through better, more targeted multi-agency action for the pupils who need it most. With the school attendance being put at the focal point, they are inviting comments from parents, schools, academy trusts and local authorities through a formal consultation.

The consultation will run for 5 weeks and will close on 28 February 2022.

The results of the consultation and the Department's response will be published on GOV.UK in Spring 2022.

If, for exceptional reasons, you are unable to use the online system, for example because you use specialist accessibility software that is not compatible with the system, you may download a Word document version of the form and email it to or post to:

Attendance Consultation - School Attendance Unit
Level 8
Sanctuary Buildings
20 Great Smith Street