School Attendance and The Law
By law, all children of compulsory school age (between 5 and 16
years*) must receive appropriate education. They must either be
registered at school, or have alternative arrangements agreed by
the Local Authority (LA). Bedford Borough is the Local
Authority for Bedfordshire. (*The school leaving date is the last
Friday in June).
If you refuse to register your child at a suitable school,
without good reason, you may receive an Attendance Order – a legal
document requiring the child to register at a school. If your child
is registered at a school, you must make sure the child attends
that school regularly. If you do not, the Local Authority may take
legal proceedings against you.
The Education Welfare Service
The Education Welfare Service (EWS) has a legal responsibility
to monitor school attendance on behalf of the Local Authority. When
there is concern about a child's attendance, the school will refer
this to the Education Welfare Service. Education Welfare Officers
(EWOs) will contact the parents and the child to discuss the
absences and give help with any difficulties which affect the
You may contact the Education Welfare Service yourself, to
obtain advice and support if you are concerned about your child's
attendance. Please contact your school for the telephone number of
your Education Welfare Officer.
If your child continues to have absences without a reason, which
the school can accept and authorise, the EWS will send you a
letter, reminding you of your responsibilities and warning that
court action may be taken.
If your child's attendance remains poor, a pre-court meeting
will usually be held at the school. You and your child will be able
to explain at this meeting why your child's attendance has been
poor and how you plan to improve it. If attendance becomes
acceptable after this meeting, no court action will be taken.
Prosecution of parents
The EWS will only prosecute parents as a last resort and after
discussion with the school and other relevant persons.
Evidence for prosecution will be supplied by the school in the
form of an attendance certificate signed by the headteacher. The
magistrates will accept this as a record of attendance from the
The Education Welfare Officer will write a report for the court
on the evidence of visits and telephone calls made to parents.
Defence against prosecution
If you are prosecuted, you have a right to challenge prosecution
grounds for the following reasons: The headteacher authorised your
child's absence (the headteacher does not need to authorise a note
sent by the parents)
Your child was absent due to sickness or unavoidable cause
(sickness may be authorised by a medical certificate)
Your child was absent in connection with religious observance
The school is beyond the statutory limits for walking and no
transport is available (the limits are 2 miles for children under 8
years and 3 miles for children aged 8 and over)
If you wish to challenge the reasons for non-attendance recorded in
the register, you must demonstrate that one or more of these
If you are asked to attend court because of your child's absence
from school, you will be sent a summons, stating the date, time and
place. The Education Welfare Service will also send you copies of
the prosecution evidence. This will include a statement made by the
Education Welfare Officer and a certificate of attendance, showing
your child's attendance over a specific period.
It may be in your interest to obtain legal advice. Legal aid is
not usually granted by the courts.
At the hearing, you will be asked whether you plead guilty or
not guilty. If you plead guilty, the prosecutor (usually a Senior
Education Welfare Officer) will give a summary of the evidence. If
you plead not guilty, the case will be adjourned and you will be
asked whether you wish to bring witnesses and/or for the Education
Welfare Officer to be present in court to give evidence at the next
If you have pleaded guilty, or been found guilty, the
magistrates have the power to impose a fine of up to 1,000 on each
parent. If you plead guilty or have been found guilty of an
aggravated offence of failing to ensure your child attends school
regularly, they can increase the fine to a maximum of 2,500 and/or
up to three months imprisonment for each parent. They may also
award costs against you.
Magistrates sometimes sentence parents to a conditional
discharge. This means there is no punishment if their child's
attendance record is acceptable from that time on but, if those
parents are convicted again during the period of the order, they
will then be punished for the first offence as well as any further