School attendance and the Law
The Education Act 1996 states that parents must ensure that their children of compulsory school age receive appropriate full-time education according to their age, ability and aptitude. Ordinarily this involves ensuring children attend school regularly and punctually. "Regularly" means "in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school" i.e. every day the school is open (Isle of Wight Council -v- Platt 06 April 2017).
Under the Section 576 of the Education Act, any person who has care of a child – whether or not they are the parent – or who has parental responsibility, is deemed to be 'a parent' and is therefore responsible for ensuring regular school attendance.
A parent is guilty of an offence if their child of compulsory school age, who is a registered pupil at a school, fails to attend regularly – Section 444(1) Education Act 1996. In such a situation if the parent knows that their child is not attending, they may be prosecuted for a more serious offence – Section 444 (1) (a) Education Act 1996. Failure to ensure school attendance can result in prosecution.
Parents who fail to register their child at a suitable school without good reason and who are not providing a suitable education themselves, will be served with a School Attendance Order directing that their child attends the school named on the order. Failure to comply with the order is an offence and will result in prosecution – Section 443 Education Act 1996.
A prosecution may be brought against a parent by :-
- Issuing a summons directly to a parent requiring them to attend court on a given date or
- By issuing proceedings under the Single Justice Procedure.
Prosecution for offences mentioned on this page are undertaken by the Inclusion Service on behalf of the local authority. Parents are liable to prosecution if they do not co-operate with the Inclusion Service and school to secure their child's regular attendance at school and their child's school attendance is not at an acceptable level. Hearings are held in the Magistrates Court.
Evidence for the prosecution is supplied by the school in the form of an attendance certificate signed by the head teacher. The Magistrates must be satisfied that it is a true record of attendance.
The Inclusion Officer (IO) at his/her manager's direction will prepare the case for prosecution. This will include evidence of letters sent to parents regarding school attendance and details of the IO's contact with parents evidencing the support the parents have been offered by the IO to improve their child's attendance.
Parents summonsed for an offence of failing to ensure their child's regular school attendance have the right to challenge the evidence for the prosecution for the following reasons:
- Absence that has been authorised by the head teacher.
- Sickness or unavoidable cause – sickness should be supported by medical evidence.
- Religious Observance – absences are as a result of special religious observance days of the parent's religion.
- The nearest appropriate school with available places is beyond the statutory limits for walking and no transport has been provided by the local authority. The limits are two miles for children under eight and three miles for children over eight.
Parents must demonstrate that one or more of these grounds apply.
Information for parents who have received a summons
If you, as a parent, are prosecuted for failing to ensure your child's regular school attendance, you will be sent a summons stating the time, date and place of the court hearing. You will be provided with copies of the prosecution evidence including witness statements made to support the proceedings. You will be asked at court if you intend to plead guilty or not guilty. If legal advice is required this should be sought prior to the hearing to avoid the need for adjournments.
On the day of the hearing you should arrive on time and report to the court's reception. If you have any questions regarding the proceedings or cannot attend on the date arranged you must contact the court beforehand. If an interpreter is needed this must be requested in advance and the court will make this provision.
Information for parents who have received a Single Justice Procedure Notice
Instead of issuing a summons under S 444 (1) Education Act 1996, the Local Authority can issue a Single Justice Procedure (SJP) notice. This involves serving the parents with a SJP notice which contains details of the offence (child, school, dates of birth, dates of offence), statement of witness and evidence of the child's absence. Parents must reply to the court indicating what their plea is. Where a parent pleads guilty, or the offence is proved in their absence (for example where a parent fails to notify the court of their plea) the case can be dealt with by a Magistrate and Legal Advisor without the need for any party to attend court. Where a parent pleads not guilty, or wants to attend court personally for their hearing, the parent must notify the court of this, and the case will be put in a Magistrates Court list and given a court date where all parties must attend court.
If you are pleading guilty or are found guilty you are liable to a fine of up to £1,000 for each offence under Section 444(1) Education Act 1996.
If it is proved that you knew that your child was not attending school regularly and there is no justifiable reason, the Court may find you guilty of an offence under Section 444 (1) (a) Education Act 1996. In this case a fine of up to £2,500 may be imposed and/or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 3 months. The court can also impose other penalties, such as a Parenting Order or a Community Order.
Costs may also be awarded against you. Fines and costs are collected at a rate linked to income. Magistrates sometimes issue a Conditional Discharge which means that if you commit a further offence during the period for which the Conditional Discharge is imposed you could be given a penalty for the original offence as well as the current offence.
The Magistrates may also defer sentence for a period of time so that school attendance can be monitored and taken into account when sentence is passed.
Education Supervision Order (ESO)
The court may request that the local authority consider applying for an ESO but this will always have been considered as an option by the Inclusion Officer and his/her manager prior to prosecution.
An ESO empowers the IO to give directions to parents and children in order to secure regular school attendance. Application for an ESO is an alternative to prosecution and the hearing would be held in the Family Law Court.
Further enquiries may be made to:
Court Presentation Officer
11 Cockshot Hill
Tel: 0300 200 1004