What could happen if the child misses school for a few weeks?
If there is a continuing problem of the child missing school, over a period of four weeks or longer, the school may ask you to sign a parenting contract. This is a written agreement, where you agree to do certain things, such as bringing the child to school, but it should also include details of support which the school or local authority will provide you with. You may want to take independent advice before deciding whether to sign this contract (see 'Where to get more information' for possible sources of independent advice). You are not legally obliged to sign the parenting contract or do what it says, but if you don't then it can be taken into account if there is any court action against you over the child's attendance.
What could happen if the child continues to miss school over a longer period?
If there is still a continuing problem because the child you are raising is not attending school, two things may happen:
- the Local Authority, or the head teacher or the assistant or deputy head, may send you a warning letter that they are considering issuing a penalty notice.
- If you receive this warning letter and you feel the threat is not justified because there was a genuine reason why the child missed school (e.g. for illness, compassionate reasons such as bereavement or a family crisis, or any other unavoidable cause) you should write and explain this to the school or the Education Welfare Officer. They may be able to help you get support for the child if this is needed.
- In certain circumstances, a penalty notice can be issued without the warning letter. This would apply if the school had given you prior notice that they would not agree to you taking the child on holiday, or if the child was caught out of school without a lawful reason, for example during a police truancy sweep, even if they were with you at the time.
- The Local Authority may apply for an Education Supervision Order (see following section for details of what this is).
What is the effect of a penalty notice?
When the penalty notice is issued, it requires you to pay a fine of £60 within 28 days after the penalty notice is issued. If you miss this date, then you would have to pay a fine of £120.
The local authority can withdraw the penalty notice if they think they have made a mistake.
If you don't pay the fine set out in the penalty notice, the local authority can decide to prosecute you.
When could happen if I am prosecuted for the child not attending school?
If you are prosecuted, the court can impose penalties if you are found guilty of not securing the child's attendance at school – you could get a fine of up to £2,500, a community order or a jail sentence of up to 3 months. The court also has the power to make a variety of orders, including:
- An Education Supervision Order (ESO): This gives the local authority power to make important decisions about the child's education, including which school the child will be educated at, and what you have to do in order to make sure the child is being educated.
- A Parenting Order: The court can make this order if you are convicted of an offence related to the child's non-school attendance, i.e. if you are convicted of an offence under section 443 (failure to comply with school attendance order) or section 444 (failure to secure regular attendance at school of registered pupil) of the Education Act 1996. It can require:
- o that you attend counselling or guidance for at least three months;
o that you manage the child's behaviour, for example by taking them to school every day; and
o that the child do certain things, for example being home each day by a certain time, or avoiding the company of specific children.
NB: It is a criminal offence not to comply with a Parenting Order without good reason. If this happened you could be taken back to court and fined up to £1,000.
- A School Attendance Order: This is used when a child is not on a school roll and appears not to be receiving full-time education. It names a school the child should attend, and if you don't comply you can be prosecuted, unless you can show that the child is being educated elsewhere, e.g. at home.