Regular and punctual attendance at school is a legal requirement under Section 7 of the Education Act 1996. Parents can be issued with a fixed penalty notice in relation to their child’s unauthorised absence from school.
This guide is produced to answer any questions parents may have.
The legal context
Under Section 444 of the Education Act, an offence occurs if a parent/carer fails to secure their child’s regular attendance at the school where they are a registered pupil, and the absence is not authorised by the school. Only headteachers can authorise absence and the only legal reasons for absence are:
- That the absences are with leave (ie that they have been agreed by the headteacher)
- That the absences are because of sickness or unavoidable cause. Parents may be asked to provide evidence to support absences due to ill health, this can be through a copy of an appointment card or prescription or information from a medical practitioner.
- That the absences fall on days of religious observance for the religion to which parents belong
- That the child is entitled to free transport to school and the County Council has failed to provide this
If absences do not fall into any of these four categories or the school has not been informed of reasons for absence, absences will be marked as unauthorised. Section 23 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 introduced powers for issuing fixed penalty notices for unauthorised absence from school. The Education (Penalty Notices) (England) Regulations came into force on 27 February 2004. These were updated with amendments in 2007, 2012 and 2013.
In Norfolk, Fixed Penalty Notices are issued in accordance with the Norfolk Local Protocol (September 2020).
In all cases a penalty notice can only be issued to a parent if the pupil has accrued at least 9 sessions (4.5 school days) of unauthorised absence during the last 6 school weeks.
The issuing of a penalty notice is considered appropriate:
- When the pupil has been absent for the purposes of a holiday during term-time and the absence has not been authorised by the school
- When the pupil has arrived in school after registration has closed and the session has been recorded with a ‘U’
- When the pupil has accrued unauthorised absence from school and following consultation with the Local Authority Attendance Service it has been agreed that the issuing of a penalty notice is an appropriate early intervention tool
Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) for term-time holidays and the Isle of Wight case
Following the High Court Judgement Isle of Wight case, the Supreme Court has subsequently heard an appeal in respect of the previous judgement. On 6 April 2017 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a child fails to attend school regularly if they fail to comply with the rules prescribed by the school. The Supreme Court decision is of importance to local authorities, schools and parents across England and Wales because it clarifies the meaning of regular school attendance. Prior to this decision uncertainty existed around the correct interpretation of the word 'regularly' in this context - the Supreme Court has concluded that the term means in accordance with the school's rules.