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Absences from school

It is important your child attends school to get a good education. By law, as a parent or carer, you must make sure that if your child is aged five to 16 (compulsory school age), he or she receives a suitable full time education. During term times, your child should attend school regularly unless:

  • he or she is ill or
  • the school has authorised their absence.

If your child is too ill to go to school, you must let the school know.

Absence due to illness

You should also let the school know about your child's treatment for any illness and any special care needed. If your child is absent frequently because of illness, the school may ask for medical guidance to make sure the right support is given. If prescribed medicines need to be taken during school hours, you should discuss this with the headteacher or the person at the school responsible for children with medical needs.

If your child is unwell at school, the school will contact you as the parent or guardian to make suitable collection and care arrangements.

Authorised absence

Only your child's school can authorise an absence from school. If you plan to take your child out of school during term time it must be for a good reason and you must obtain permission from the school's headteacher. Good reasons may include: family bereavements and funerals, doctor, dental and hospital appointments.

If your child is absent from school due to working in the entertainment industry our children in entertainment guide (PDF) explains your responsibilities.

Unauthorised absence

If your child is absent without good reason – for example, because of family birthdays, visits from relatives, family outings or holidays – it will also be recorded as unauthorised.

If you do not ask for or get permission to take your child out of school and do so regardless, your child's absence will be recorded as unauthorised and will be seen as truancy.  

Taking holidays in term time

Headteachers may not grant any leave of absence during term time unless there are exceptional circumstances. These circumstances will be determined by your child's headteacher, including the number of school days your child can be away from school if leave is granted. You must allow enough time for the headteacher to consider your request before leave is taken. It is possible that the headteacher may refuse permission. Parents can be given a penalty notice or prosecuted for periods of unauthorised holidays.

Being late for school

It is important your child gets to school on time. If they are late and miss the register, it may be recorded as an unauthorised absence.

Our education welfare service

To help make sure that every child goes to school regularly and gets an appropriate education, each school has an education welfare officer who can act on enquiries from schools, other organisations, parents and members of the public. Where a child's absence from school gives cause for concern, the education welfare officer works with everyone involved to create an action plan supporting full-time attendance and will stay involved until this is achieved. Legal action may be taken to ensure your child attends school.

To feedback on your experience of working with the education welfare officers, please complete the Children's Services general enquiry form.


Truancy is where a child is regularly absent from school without satisfactory reason or permission. Truants have less opportunity for a good education and to experience the social aspects of school life, which benefit them as adults. Truants are more likely to leave school with few or no qualifications, to be out of work, become homeless and to be involved in crime. So we take truancy very seriously.

If your child fails to attend school regularly and punctually, we may take legal action. This can include issuing a penalty notice, prosecution or applying for an education supervision order.   

Joint truancy patrols are carried out by us and Surrey Police. Any adult with a child may be asked why they are not at school and police officers have the authority to return a truant child to school. You may also be referred to our education welfare service for help with your child's attendance problems including truancy.  

If you think your child may be playing truant please contact the school immediately. Our education and welfare service offers advice on how to avoid your child playing truant. Or you can call your relevant area education welfare service for further support.

  • North-west area 01483 518130 (Runnymede, Surrey Heath, Woking)
  • North-east area 01372 833588 (Spelthorne, Elmbridge, Epsom & Ewell)
  • South-west area 01483 517179 (Guildford and Waverley)
  • South-east area 01737 737777 (Mole Valley, Tandridge, Reigate & Banstead)

Files available to download