School absences

Information on absences from school, including holidays during term time, and fixed penalty notices.

1 Overview

Children must attend school regularly and on time during term time.

Your child can only miss school if:

  • they are too ill to go to school
  • the school has authorised the absence. 

2 Authorised absences

You must get permission from the headteacher if you are planning to take your child out of school during term time.

Your child may be allowed to miss school for:

  • a death in the family or funeral
  • doctor, hospital or dental appointments.

If you do not get permission and you take your child out of school, this will be recorded as an unauthorised absence.

3 Unauthorised absences

Unauthorised absences are when a pupil has been marked in the school attendance register as being absent from school without authority. It is only a headteacher who can authorise absence for any reason from school. 

This includes:

  • any absence marked in the register as unauthorised (‘O’ or ‘N’ codes)
  • persistent late arrival at school after the register has been taken (‘U’ codes)
  • a holiday in term-time, which has not been authorised by the headteacher (‘G’ codes).

The Government has directed that headteachers may now only grant leave for a holiday in term-time where there are exceptional circumstances.

In West Sussex, we may issue a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) if a pupil has accrued unauthorised absence from school and the school has referred the matter to us.

4 Fixed Penalty Notices

Fixed Penalty Notices (FPN) are issued per parent, per child and are an alternative to prosecution, giving you an opportunity to discharge your criminal liability by paying a fine of £120, which must be paid within 28 days.

They are generally issued where there have been at least 10 sessions of unauthorised absence from school within a recorded 10 school week period. However, there are some occasions where they are issued outside of these criteria.

Should the period of absence for a holiday in term time be 15 school days or more, a FPN may not be deemed suitable. Instead the matter may be brought directly before the court. 

After 28 days we will consider prosecuting for the original non-attendance, not for the non-payment of the FPN, however if you pay within 21 days we will reduce the fine to £60.

Paying a Fixed Penalty Notice

You can pay online using the reference number stated on the FPN. A unique reference number for each child will be provided.

Pay online (external link)

You will need to select 'Fixed Penalty Notice - School attendance fine'.

If you pay the fine within 21 days it is reduced by 50% to £60. Once over the 21 days the fine must be paid in full. Both these amounts can be selected on the payment form. If you are over the 21 days and only pay £60 we will contact you to request the outstanding amount.

Alternative methods of payment are outlined on the FPN.

Further information on legal action that can be taken can be found on GOV.UK.

Supporting documents

5 Holidays in term time

Headteachers have been directed by the Government not to authorise any absence from school unless there is an ‘exceptional' circumstance. 

You must get permission from the headteacher if you want to take your child out of school for a holiday in term time.

It’s up to the headteacher on how many days your child can be away from school if it is granted.

6 Contact us

General questions around school attendance, including the use of penalties, can be answered by Pupil Entitlement Investigation (PEI).

For details on how we collect your data, see our pupil entitlement privacy notice.

Last updated:
13 March 2019
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