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Unauthorised absence and enforcement

You have a legal responsibility to ensure that your child is in full-time education between the ages of five and sixteen. Unless you are educating your child other than at school, this means attending school daily.

There are many reasons why a child may be absent, such as illness, medical appointments or emergencies. However, poor school attendance will have an impact on your child's learning, and it can put your child in danger of crime, anti-social behaviour or exploitation. It also negatively affects their school, their teacher and the rest of their class. Pupils can only be absent from school if they are ill or, in exceptional circumstances, the headteacher has agreed in advance. You can view the national regulations on school attendance and absence and parents' legal responsibilities in more detail on the GOV.UK website.

Warning If you fail to ensure that your child is receiving an appropriate education, or to work with the school to support your child's attendance, you may receive a penalty notice (a fine) or we may take legal action against you. View the Penality Notice code of conduct, which explains how and why we may issue a penalty notice

Select the topic you are concerned about from the list below, to learn more about how we may deal with different types of unauthorised absence.

Holidays in term time

Holidays taken in term time should be the exception rather than the rule. Each school will have its own policy on this sort of absence, and should publish this on their website. For all schools, please remember the following:

  • Only the headteacher can grant permission for absence during term time.
  • There have to be exceptional circumstances. This does not include the cost of travelling, or arrangements made by friends or other family members.
  • It is extremely unlikely that you will get permission for absence when your child is preparing for or taking exams. 
  • You will need to give reasonable notice of any planned absence. Schools will state the minimum time in their policy on absence. Please consult them directly, as far as possible before you plan for your child to be absent.
  • Retrospective applications (applying for permission after the absence) are not allowed in any school under any circumstances.
Warning If your child misses school because of an unauthorised holiday, each parent may get a penalty notice for each child*. The fine for each notice is £120, with 28 days to pay (reduced to £60 if you pay within 21 days). If you don't pay your fines, we may prosecute you, which could lead to penalties that are higher than the original fines, and other sanctions imposed by the court.

*Schools will issue penalty notices separately to each parent, and for each child. For example, a family with two parents and two children taking unauthorised absence would receive the following penalties:

Parent 1 = 1 penalty for child A plus 1 penalty for child B = 2 penalties
Parent 2 = 1 penalty for child A plus 1 penalty for child B = 2 penalties
Total payable by the family = 4 penalties (or £480)

School refusal

School avoidance, or refusal, happens when a child becomes increasingly upset or anxious about attending school. This can cause major conflict at home. Typically, there may be regular early morning arguments or tantrums, refusing to get out of bed or get dressed, or repeated claims of minor illnesses.

Children may refuse to go to school for many reasons, including the following:

  • Social anxiety disorder, or other mental health issues
  • Experience of bullying, discrimination or harassment at school
  • Academic problems
  • Conflict with teachers or school friends
  • Family problems at home

In cases of school refusal, schools will work closely with parents to investigate the exact problem. This may include talking to members of staff and other students, where appropriate.

Sources of support

If your child is regularly refusing to go to school, you should contact the school in the first instance. They will deal with each case on an individual basis, and identify the correct support to help deal with the problem. 


Truancy, or 'bunking off', often happens without the knowledge of parents. Your child may go into school at the normal time, and attend registration, but then fail to go to lessons. The following are all signs that your child may be truanting from school:

  • Not talking about lessons or having any homework to do
  • Packing a change of clothes in their school bag
  • Asking you what time you will be home
  • Not taking equipment or sports kit to school
  • Attempting to stop you from going to school events
  • Food at home disappearing during times your child should be at school
Sources of support
  • The Family Lives website has advice for parents whose children are not attending lessons 
  • Relate offer tips and support to parents, including free live chat counselling

If you suspect your child is regularly truanting from school, you should contact the school in the first instance. They will deal with each case on an individual basis, and identify the correct support to help deal with the problem. 

What happens next

Your responsibilities

If you think that your child is unhappy at school, or may be missing lessons, you must contact the school as soon as possible, so that you can work with them to resolve any difficulties. You can also email our Attendance and Welfare Support Service (A&WSS) at, if you need further advice or support.

The school's responsibilities

Schools generally deal with truancy internally. You can find out about their policy on this by contacting them directly. They are responsible for keeping attendance records, and they have to report regular poor attendance, and what they are doing to try to solve the problem, to our  Attendance and Welfare Support Service. If the problem continues, we may get involved. 

Our responsibilities

If other attempts to support your child's school attendance fail, we may take enforcement action. This could involve the following:

  • Penalty notices
  • Formal warnings (known as a 'simple caution'), if we believe that you could do more to support your child's attendance at school
  • We may apply to the Family Proceedings Court for an Education Supervision Order (ESO)
  • Court action. This could result in a Parenting Order, a fine of up to £2,500, and/or a prison sentence of three months