Child out of School
By law all children of statutory school age must receive an education, at school or otherwise. Statutory school age is between the ages of 5 and 16 (from the term after the child’s 5th birthday until the last Friday in June in the school year in which they are 16). Most Local Authorities will offer full time school places to children living in their area at the start of the school year in which the child reaches the age of 5.
If your child is a registered pupil at a school then you must make sure that you child attends regularly. The Local Authority may apply for an Education Supervision Order through the Family Court or alternatively commence a criminal prosecution against parents whose children fail to attend school regularly through the Magistrates Court. Some Local Authorities will issue a ‘Fixed Penalty Notice’ first and will then prosecute Parents if school attendance does not improve or if the ‘Fixed Penalty’ is not paid. There are very few reasons which will be accepted by the Court as a defence. Parents may be fined or even receive a custodial sentence if convicted.
The school will keep an attendance register and will keep a record of all absences from school. Absences from school fall into two categories: ‘Authorised’ and ‘Unauthorised’.
There may be a number of reasons why your child cannot attend school.
If your child is unwell and unable to attend school, and you tell the school this on the first morning of the absence, the absence will generally be authorised. Schools will usually accept a note from a parent covering short periods of absence from school. However if your child is off school for longer periods the school may want to see some evidence such as a Doctor’s letter. If your child is absent for school for a period of up to two weeks the school should provide work for your child to do at home. If your child is unable to attend school for more than two weeks then the Local Authority should provide education otherwise than at school, for example, arranging home tuition. The Local Authority will want to see evidence about your child’s medical condition before they arrange home tuition. It may be possible to commence a High Court action of Judicial Review if the Local Authority will not provide home tuition for your child.
School avoidance/school refusal
If your child is regularly refusing to attend school it is important that the causes of this are investigated as soon as possible and before it reaches a stage where the Local Authority has commenced a prosecution. You should keep the school informed and tell the school what the child is saying or ask the school for possible reasons, for example; is your child being bullied in school or does your child have special educational needs which are not being provided for? It is again important to obtain advice as soon as possible to try to resolve matters as quickly a possible.
If your child is regularly failing to attend school without your knowledge you will still be legally responsible and could be prosecuted. It is important to seek advice as soon as possible to try to resolve the situation before any prosecution is brought.
Schools can authorise up to 10 school days per year for holidays during term time. This is a matter decided by the Head Teacher. If the Head Teacher does not authorise the absence then it will be recorded as an unauthorised absence.
Education Otherwise than at school
Some parents decide to provide education for their children at home. The Local Authority must be notified but do not need to give permission unless your child is a registered pupil at a special school. If you decide that you want to educate your child at home then you must remove your child’s name from the school register. The Local Authority may want to see evidence about the education you will be arranging so again it is important that you obtain advice at an early stage. If the Local Authority is not satisfied that you are arranging a suitable education they may issue a School Attendance Order requiring you to register your child at a school and may prosecute you if your child does not attend.
At Watkins Solicitors we have many years of experience in advising Parents about the school attendance issues. We are able to advise you about the law and about your legal responsibilities and if necessary we can help you to prepare your case and obtain any evidence you need. However we will not be able to represent you at a Magistrates Court hearing. It is far better to try to resolve matters before it reaches this stage so again it is very important that you obtain advice at the earliest possible stage.