Children must receive education:
- from the start of the term after their fifth birthday; and
- until the last Friday in June in the school year in which they turn 16.
The LA educates some children out of school. You are also allowed to educate your child out of school, but you must give them a ‘suitable education’ (see ‘May I teach my child at home?’).
If you don’t register your child for a school, and you are not giving your child a suitable education out of school, the LA may serve you with a ‘school attendance order’. This will name a school that your child must attend. It will also explain your right to apply to another school if you don’t want to send your child to the named school. You will be breaking the law if you do not follow a school attendance order, unless you can show that your child is receiving a suitable education somewhere other than at school.
The LA or school may take action against you if your child:
- does not go to school as set out in a school attendance order;
- does not regularly go to the school they are registered at; or
- is often late.
The school or LA may ask you to sign a parenting contract if your child does not attend school regularly over a four-week period or longer. This is a written agreement asking you to take certain steps such as bringing your child to school. It should also include support for you and your child, and you could suggest anything you think might help. For example, it might include:
- for you, parenting classes or someone to advise you (normally an education welfare officer from the LA); and
- for your child, peer mentoring (support from another pupil), literacy classes or help with transport to and from school.
The contract has no legal force, but if you refuse to sign or do not keep to it, it could be used against you in any court action.
The school or the LA can also issue you with a fixed penalty notice (a fine) of £50 or £100 – the lower amount if you pay within a certain time. You cannot appeal against this fine. If you refuse to pay it, either:
- the penalty notice could be withdrawn; or
- you may be taken to court.
If you pay the fine, you cannot be taken to court for that offence, but you could be prosecuted if your child continues to miss school without the school’s agreement.
The LA may decide to take you to court if your child is not attending school regularly and the absences have not been authorised (allowed) by the school. However, before the LA does this, it should first consider applying to the court for an ‘education supervision order’ (ESO). This allows the LA to give you help, advice and instructions on your child’s education and schooling, which you must follow. It can choose to prosecute you as well as applying for an ESO.
If the LA does decide to prosecute, each of the child’s parents can be:
- fined up to £1,000; and
- made to attend counselling or guidance as part of a ‘parenting order’.
If the LA can also show that you know your child is not going to school and you are not trying to make them go to school, each parents can be:
- fined up to £2,500;
- put in prison for up to three months; and
- made to attend counselling or guidance as part of a parenting order.
Under a parenting order, you may also have to take more control over your child’s behaviour – for example, by personally taking them to school each day. If you don’t stick to the terms of a parenting order, you are breaking the law.
You should not be prosecuted if your child misses school:
- because of authorised absence, when the school agrees that your child does not have to be at school;
- because your child is ill or there is some other reason that can’t be avoided;
- for religious reasons – for example, a religious holiday or event; or
- because the school is not within walking distance and the LA has not arranged a way for your child to get to school, made boarding arrangements or found them a school nearer to home – see ‘Can I get help taking my child to school?’.