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.

4 Role of Pupil Entitlement: Investigation

When a child is recorded as absent from school without authority their parent(s) can be held accountable for an offence under S.444 of the Education Act 1996.

When unauthorised absence occurs, the school has the option to refer it to the local authority to consider intervention, dependent on the length and the reason for the absence. This can be by one of two pathways:

  • A request for the use of a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN)
  • A request for the allocation of an Investigating Officer.

Referrals are reviewed and acted upon by Pupil Entitlement: Investigation (PE:I), who finalise which pathway of intervention is to be taken.

All cases referred to PE:I are considered on an individual, case-by-case basis, reviewing the submission made by the school. PE:I must be satisfied that an offence under the Education Act 1996 has occurred and then decide the form of intervention to be instigated, if any.

Interventions can be allocation to an Investigating Officer and/or the use of a Fixed Penalty Notice.

5 Role of the Investigating Officer

The Investigating Officer is tasked to ascertain whether the evidential requirements of the offence under the Education Act have been met. This is achieved by reviewing the submission from the school and by contacting the parent(s) and speaking to the child and other professionals. We encourage all parents to respond to our contact.

At the conclusion of the investigation a decision will be made as to the next steps which can include:

  • the matter being referred to the Criminal Courts for non-attendance offences contrary to S.444 of the Education Act 1996
  • the matter being referred to the Family Courts for the application of an Education Supervision Order - you can find information on ESOs on GOV.UK and by reading the supporting document below
  • the case transferred to the FPN team
  • the matter being closed.

Supporting documents

6 Fixed Penalty Notices

Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) 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.

FPNs are issued per parent, per child and are an alternative to prosecution. This gives the parent an opportunity to discharge their criminal liability by paying a fine of £120, which must be paid within 28 days. If you pay the FPN within 21 days, the amount is reduced to £60.

When FPNs have not been paid within the 28 days we will consider prosecuting for the original non-attendance, not for the non-payment of the FPN. Further information on legal action that can be taken can be found on GOV.UK. Alternatively, we may transfer the case to an Investigating Officer.

Please note: should the period of unauthorised 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.

Government instigated changes to FPNs

The Government has recently announced changes to the Fixed Penalty Notice process. More information is available on GOV.UK.

Headline information

  • From August 2024, the cost of a FPN is raising to £160 with the opportunity to pay this at a lower rate of £80 in the first 21 days. This will relate to any unauthorised absence which occurs after 19 August 2024. Absence prior to this date will lead to FPNs being issued at the £120 rate with an opportunity to pay at a lower rate of £60 if paid within the first 21 days.
  • In some circumstances, the ability to pay the lower amount is not available.
  • An escalation process is to be introduced. When a parent has received two FPNs in a three year period, the offer of a FPN will not be available. Instead, the matter will either be allocated to an Investigating Officer or referred to the Magistrates' court. Please note if the absence related to holidays in term time, the case is likely to go before the Magistrates' court.

FPNs issued prior to the change will not count to the escalation period.

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 per cent 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

7 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.

8 Contact our team

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:
14 June 2024
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