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Attendance, illness and getting to school

Attendance, illness and getting to school

This section is about attendance. We will explain the rules and laws around attendance, what happens if your child does not attend school enough and then some reasons why people might find it hard to attend school and more information about what happens next or what you can do.

You can find out more about the law around attendance on the government website and from Child Law Advice. You can find information about attendance and how this relates to exclusion and being educated offsite elsewhere on the Local Offer.

All children nationally are expected to be in education from Reception to Year 11. Usually, children start school in the September after their 4th birthday (Reception) and attend until the last day in June after their 16th birthday (Year 11).

Parents are responsible for making sure that their children of compulsory school age receive a suitable full-time education. This can be by regular attendance at school, at alternative provision, or otherwise (e.g. the parent can choose to educate their child at home).

A child reaches compulsory school age on or after their fifth birthday.

  • If they turn 5 between 1st January and 31st March, they are of compulsory school age on 31st March
  • If they turn 5 between 1st April and 31st August, they are of compulsory school age on 31st August.
  • If they turn 5 between 1st September and 31st December, then they are of compulsory school age on 31st December.

A child continues to be of compulsory school age until the last Friday of June in the school year that they reach sixteen.

Tower Hamlets expects Children to have 96% attendance and above and schools monitor the levels of children’s attendance and punctuality.

When children are absent from school, they may miss out on valuable opportunities to learn, play, and developing social skills. When older children develop poor attendance habits, they may become vulnerable to exploitation and become involved in criminal behaviours in the community.

You can only allow your child to miss school if they are too ill to go, or you have advance permission from the school. Schools will only give you advance permission under exceptional circumstances and it is the head teacher's decision.

What happens if my child does not attend school enough?

Children who have poor attendance may have reduced outcomes from education and schools may make referrals to the Attendance Welfare Service when children have poor attendance and /or punctuality.

The Attendance Welfare Service may invite parents to meetings with the school to try to understand any absence concerns and try to resolve them enabling the child to progress with positive attendance.

The Attendance Welfare Advisors can make referrals to services both within London Borough of Tower Hamlets and surrounding boroughs and they have a wealth of information regarding support services for children and families.

If parents are asked to attend meetings with the Attendance Welfare Advisor every attempt to arrange this at a time convenient for parents/carers will be made, however this will be during the school day. Parents/carers are expected to attend meetings to resolve attendance concerns and engage with the Attendance Welfare Advisors and school to support their child/children in education.

Whilst every effort will be made to support and resolve attendance concerns when they are not resolved or not sustained, schools may refer to the Attendance Welfare Advisor to issue Penalty Warning Notices (for fines) or Court Warning Notices (for prosecution).

Penalty Notices to address poor attendance and punctuality in schools

A Penalty Warning Notice can be issued to parents making them aware that if there are any further instances of absence/poor punctuality they may receive a fine.  If there is no improvement in attendance or punctuality or improvements made are not sustained Penalty Charge Notices (fines) are issued to each individual parent/carer for each individual child who meets the criteria.

In the specific circumstances related to (i) the taking of 6 sessions (3 days) or more of unauthorised leave/holidays in term time, and (ii) where parents/carers fail to ensure that their child is not in a public place during the first five days of exclusion from school without reasonable justification then the matter will be referred immediately to the Attendance & Welfare Service for issue of the Penalty Notice.

If parents/carers have already received a fine for poor attendance and then unauthorised leave in termtime (holiday) is taken this would be referred to the Attendance Welfare Advisor for Prosecution. In this case a Court Warning Notice would not be issued.

When Fines are Issued

Penalty Notices may be used in a range of situations where unauthorised absence occurs including:

Persistent unauthorised absence and/or late arrival at school (after the Register has closed).

Unauthorised holidays/leave in term time or excessive delayed return from an extended holiday without prior school permission.

Failure by parent(s)/carer(s) to attend LA convened attendance panels in schools to discuss their child’s attendance and/ or lateness.

Where parents/carers fail to ensure that their child is not in a public place during the first five days of exclusion from school without reasonable justification.

There is no statutory right of appeal once a Penalty Notice has been issued.

When the notice is issued payment details of how to make payment are included in the Penalty Notice. You need to be aware that payment in part or by instalment is not an option with Penalty Notices.

The current fine for a Penalty Notice is £120 per parent and per child. If payment is received within 21 days, the payment is reduced to £60 per parent and per child.

Where payment is not received within the 28 days the Penalty Notice is referred to the Legal Manager and progresses to Prosecution.

Fines are issued under:

  • Education Act 1996 S444

If a child who is of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at the school, the parent is guilty of an offence under s.444 Education Act 1996

  • The Education and Inspections Act 2006

Section 105 of this Act enables a Penalty Notice to be issued where parents/carers fail to fulfil the duty under section 103 to ensure that their child is not present during school hours in a public place without reasonable justification when they are excluded from school.

  • The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003

Section 23 of the Act gives powers to the Local Authority (LA) and other designated bodies to issue Penalty Notices where a parent/carer is considered capable of but unwilling to secure an improvement in their child’s school attendance.

Why have fines been introduced?

Reducing absence from school is a key priority nationally and locally because missing school damages a pupil’s attainment levels, disrupts school routines, the learning of others and can leave a pupil vulnerable to anti-social behaviour and youth crime. Above all, missing school seriously affects children’s life opportunities.

When a Penalty Notice is issued and remains unpaid this progresses to a prosecution of the parent/parents under the Education Act 2006 s 444. Parents prosecuted can receive fines of up to £2500 and a criminal conviction.


If attendance remains poor the Attendance Welfare Advisor may issue a Court Warning Notice. Where poor attendance continues, or it is very poor and there is no improvement or effort on the part of the parent to make a change for their child and sustain it Parents/carers can be prosecuted under the Education Act 2006 s444/441a.

Parents/carers commit an offence if a child fails to attend school regularly and on time and the absences/ late arrivals are classed as unauthorised or avoidable (those for which the school cannot or has not given permission). The failure of a child to attend regularly can result in the parent(s)/carer(s) of that child being prosecuted in the Magistrates Court under section 444 of the Education Act 1996. If convicted the parents/carers will receive a criminal record as well as whatever penalty is imposed by the Magistrates which can be up to £2500 /Custodial sentence.

Sickness, medical appointments and part-time timetables

 Schools should authorise your child’s absence if they are too unwell to attend school or if the child has a medical or dental appointment.

The NHS has advice for parents about how to decide if your child is too ill to go to school. If you aren’t sure whether your child is well enough to attend school, you can contact the school to ask what they think.

By law, schools must provide a space for treatment of sick or injured pupils and first aid or medical examinations. If you are asked to collect your child during the school day because they are ill, this will be an authorised absence.

If your child has a medical appointment or you know they will be off school in advance (for example, if they have a surgery soon and will need to recover afterwards) you should tell the school as soon as you can. You can use your confirmation of appointment, surgery date or recovery time as proof if you are asked.

Parents and guardians are responsible for excusing their children from school. For short absences from school, you shouldn’t usually have to provide proof. Schools should only ask for evidence if they have genuine cause for concern that the child isn’t ill. If the child has a long-term or ongoing medical condition which keeps them off school regularly, schools could ask for evidence, this evidence should be from a specialist. GPs do not provide sick notes for school children, and they can’t provide sickness certification after the sickness happened. More information about this is available at Child Law Advice.

If your child is coming back to school after illness or injury and you think they might need help at school while they are recovering, you can ask the school or your doctor for advice.

If a child of compulsory school age has ongoing medical conditions/disability or needs treatment which will stop them from attending school for more than 15 days, the Local Authority’s must arrange suitable, full-time education (or as much education as the child’s health will allow). More information about the role of the Local Authority for pupils who are too ill to go to school is on the Department for Education website. 

For children who struggle to attend school enough, or regularly due to their health or disability, there is support that can be offered to improve their attendance or ensure they get an appropriate education. You can speak to your child’s school, your doctor (like a GP or a specialist that works with your child), the Attendance and Welfare Service, or the advisory teachers in the Learning Advisory Service who specialise in physical disabilities and complex medical needs who advise schools and parents about a range of topics, including promoting attendance.

Part-time or reduced timetables must only be agreed in exceptional circumstances when the pupil needs it, it is in their best interest, it is on a temporary basis and there is an expectation of when they return to school. Reduced timetables can sometimes be used when a pupil is recovering from a medical problem and is coming back to school.


If you want advice about reduced timetables, or attendance issues for children with medical needs or disabilities you can contact the Special Educational Needs and Disability Information Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS).


School avoidance and mental health challenges

When children and young people refuse to attend school or are having problems with their mental health which make it hard to attend, this is sometimes called school refusal or emotionally based school avoidance (EBSA).

It can be very challenging for parents to manage this, but there is help and advice available. The Council have released a Parent Guide about Emotionally Based School Avoidance which has more information about what EBSA is, what are the signs of EBSA, what you should do, how to make and follow a plan with the school, how you can expect the school to help, how to talk to your child about their worries and where to go for advice.

You can request support from the Attendance and Welfare Service if your child is refusing to go to school and it is difficult for you to get them to attend.

You can see the Tower Hamlets Mental Health Page for information about how you can get support for your child if their mental health is affecting their school attendance.

Problems travelling to school

Sometimes parents have difficulties taking their children to school or young people have difficulties travelling by themselves to school. Local Authorities are required to provide support to families to travel to school in some circumstances, you can click here to read the government guidance about home-to-school travel and transport or the London Borough of Tower Hamlets: Travel Assistance Policy 2020 to find out more.

In London, unless you or your child have a disability, you are unlikely to meet the criteria for home to school travel assistance, as you are unlikely to have to travel far, there are plenty of safe routes and public transport available with discounted rates for children and young people. Further information about financial help with travel and help with travelling if you or your child have a disability is on the Local Offer.

If you need help travelling to school and want help or advice from the council, or want to apply for travel assistance, you can visit the Tower Hamlets school travel support webpage.

If you apply for assistance with travelling to school and your application is denied, there are ways you can appeal this decision. You can find out more about this in the policy.