Although schools are often trying to tell us how to be the “perfect student”, it can be pretty hard not to have a few absences from time to time. In most cases, these are sick days or, sadly, life events that keep students away from school, but there are some cases in which your school won’t justify your absence. These are unauthorised absences, and they get logged into the school system. The question is, how many of these absences are you actually allowed?
About 5 full school days, or 10 sessions worth, of unauthorised absence is what will cause a school to intervene and inform the local council, although this might vary from council to council. This will result in a penalty, which is decided by the local council. Similarly, attendance below 90% is registered as persistent absence, which can also incur a penalty. Therefore, 9 sessions of unauthorised absence are the maximum number of sessions a student can miss before the school and local council become involved.
Don’t worry if you don’t have the full picture just yet – this article is here to provide you with all the facts about unauthorised, authorised, and persistent absence at school.
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How many unauthorised absences are allowed at school before a fine?
There is no specific number of unauthorised absences which are “allowed” under UK law. Unauthorised absences should be avoided as much as possible, so there is a limit in place for unauthorised absences before parents are fined.
However, after about 5 days, or 10 sessions (a session is half of a school day, so either the morning, or the afternoon of a full school day) of unauthorised absence, the school is required to notify the local educational authority (i.e., the local council) of persistent absence (PA).
These sessions do not need to be consecutive; 10 sessions over the whole year are enough for this to happen. It is not always after 10 sessions, and individual cases will be considered for more or less time to be acceptable, however, in a vast majority, 10 sessions of unauthorised absence are enough to be reported to the local authority.
Once persistent absence has been reported, parents will incur penalties, which I’ll discuss later in the article.
While there is no specified number of absences in law, local authorities may set their own targets, or have rules about what is allowed in their area.
For example, it is the East Riding of Yorkshire Council that states that 10 sessions of unauthorised absence are enough to incur a fine. To find this, go to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council website, linked for you here.
This will be different for each local council and depends on the local council of your school, so it’s a good idea to find their website and look for how many unauthorised absences/sessions your child can miss before you face a fine.
What is the minimum attendance allowed for school?
Attendance is recorded by every school at every session, by law, and this is how they know when you have missed sessions. An attendance rate below 90% is defined as persistent absence.
As such, anything over 90% is above the minimum attendance rate, but attendance of 95% of higher is what schools ask most students to aim for.
Although authorised absences do still affect school attendance, they are looked down upon much less than unauthorised absences, so even if your attendance is 91-92%, as long as your absences are authorised you should be fine. For more information about persistent absence, check out this page on the government website.
Unauthorised vs authorised absence at school
There are two types of absences at school.
An unauthorised absence is an absence for which the reasons have been considered unjustified or unsatisfactory by the school. For example, if you missed school to go on holiday (something that could have been done at another time or avoided).
An authorised absence is an absence for which the reasons have been considered justified by the school. This means that the school believes that it was in the best interests of the student and the school to miss school.
Both types of absences will be noted by the school in their system, and both affect your overall attendance, but only unauthorised absences will be flagged.
It is only unauthorised absences that you can receive penalties for, which I will explain later in the article. For more information about these types of absence, check out this article by The School Run.
In the next two sections, I’ll take you through what is considered an authorised absence, and what constitutes an unauthorised absence, so keep reading for more details.
What is an authorised absence at school?
To get an absence authorised, you must contact your headteacher and follow the procedure given to you (which is specific to the school you attend). This usually must be carried out by a parent or guardian and is subject to the headteacher’s discretion.
It is not guaranteed that even following this procedure will mean your absence is excused. During the process, you may be asked to provide evidence, such as a doctor’s note for long illness absence.
Authorised absences will still be logged by the school and impact your attendance, but nowhere near as severely as an unauthorised absence. Schools have to log absences for safety reasons. For more information about this and authorised absences in general, check out this Think Student article.
What is an unauthorised absence at school?
As we’ve already discussed, what is deemed an unauthorised absence is determined by your school’s policy. However, there are some general things that in most cases will constitute an unauthorised absence. These include:
- Failure to inform the school of an absence (these absences can be authorised if the parent then provides what the school deems a valid reason for absence)
- Taking holidays during term time
- Day trips or leisure events
- Minor illnesses or ailments (e.g., hay fever or a small cold. You may be able to receive help for these in school, which is why they are usually deemed unauthorised)
Essentially, when it comes to unauthorised absences, you have to use a bit of common sense, and ask yourself beforehand: would the school get upset if you missed a day for that reason? Obviously, if you are seriously unwell or experiencing a serious life event, the school should authorise your absence.
For more information about this, check out this page on the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s website.
What are the penalties for unauthorised absences at school?
The government website states that persistent absence at school can lead to prosecution. Your local council does not have to issue any other penalties before prosecution, but if they do, it may be one of the following:
- A Parenting Order- parents of the absent student attend parenting classes and any other rules or regulations ordered by the court. A Parenting Order may be issued instead of or alongside prosecution – it aims to guide parents toward supporting their child’s attendance at school. To read more about a Parenting Order, check out the Sentencing Council website here .
- An Educational Supervision Order- an Educational Supervision Order (ESO) is an order that appoints a supervisor to help you get your child into education; you may be issued an ESO if the council thinks you need support getting your child to go to school but aren’t cooperating. This page of the Surrey Council website has more information of an ESO.
- School Attendance Order- If you are issued a School Attendance Order (SAO) by the Family Court, parents will have 15 days to provide evidence that their child/ren is registered with the school listened in the order, or that the child/ren is being home-schooled. If no evidence is provided, you will face prosecution or a fine. You can read about SAOs on this page of the government website.
- Fines- Your local council can fine you £60 per parent for you not attending school, per day and child, which rises to £120 if not paid in 21 days. After 28 days your family may be prosecuted for not paying.
- Prosecution- in some cases, the court may fine families up to £2500, a community order, or a jail sentence up to 3 months. These sentences are serious and only a last resort but are still very much a possibility. These sentences also give you a Parenting Order, as mentioned above.
Details on all of these penalties are found on this page of the government website. To find education and attendance information directly from your council, the government website has a search tool, linked for you here.
Why is school attendance so important?
School attendance obviously matters for academic success. Attending school means that you have a better understanding of the topics being taught, which leads to better grades. This is because teaching helps you cover gaps in your knowledge and provide exam advice.
School is also very important socially. Persistent absence at any time of the year is damaging to friendships and means you miss out on important social events. Of course, this is not the most important reason for attending school, but socialising impacts on human development quite significantly, and contributes a lot to mental health.
Safeguarding pupil’s well-being in school can be made very difficult if they are not there to request and show that they need help. Unfortunately, school, for some students, is a means of escaping trouble they may face at home, so attendance is important in protecting students too.
It is not normal to feel unsafe at home, and there are people at school who can help you if you are experiencing dangerous behaviour when you’re at home. As well as this, the number for Childline is 0800 1111. For more information about Childline, check out its website, linked for you here.
For more information about the importance of school attendance, check out this Think Student article.
Reasons why you may be missing school and how to help
Whether you love school or hate it, every student sometimes has bad days, and that’s perfectly normal. However, it’s important that your education isn’t impacted by persistent absence.
Anxiety is a common reason why students feel like they need to ‘escape’ school. This might be anxiety about their grades, their friends, their future, or just general anxiety. It’s important as a parent to listen to your child and work with them, not to shut them down or dismiss their worries.
This Think Student article has some helpful advice on what to do if your child won’t go to school because of anxiety. Alternatively, this Think Student article has advice on how to manage anxiety as a student.
Bullying is also, unfortunately, a common reason why students skip school. If you or someone you know is being bullied, you should contact an authority in your school, as well as trying to talk to your parents (if you can), to help them better understand your situation.
Bullying is never okay, and you always deserve to feel safe at school. This Think Student article has some helpful advice on what to do if you’re being bullied.