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Support for schools - help with a child's attendance issues

It is essential for pupils to attend school regularly in order to maximise the opportunities available to them. We investigate cases of irregular attendance, provide advice to schools on managing attendance and if necessary carry out legal enforcement measures.

The importance of early identification, assessment and intervention cannot be overemphasised.

There are 2 main areas that will cover why a child is not legitimately attending school (excluding sickness):

  • term time absence - this may be an unauthorised holiday or other unexplained absence taking place in term-time
  • irregular attendance - this is, generally, a longer series of short absences where there has been an unsatisfactory explanation for the absence or no reason provided 

Strategies for schools to improve attendance and manage lateness

Evidence has shown that tackling absence can be most effective when a number of different approaches are adopted. The initiatives used by schools to encourage attendance are partly dictated by a number of factors including the age of pupils, parental interest, geographical location and social and economic circumstances.  

Individual schools need to respond to their own particular problems in their own way. The following approaches may help in the development of a robust attendance strategy. 

A school’s attendance policy should set out its systems and procedures for ensuring regular school attendance and investigating the underlying causes of poor attendance.

It is important that it is not just one member of staff who writes the policy.  

The policy will be more meaningful if developed in consultation with teachers, pupils, families, the School Attendance Support Service administrative and ancillary staff, governors and senior management.

The key components of an attendance policy should include the following:

The principles underlying the policy and how they apply to the whole school community, including how:

  • the policy ties in to the school’s approach to promoting emotional wellbeing
  • the policy links with the school’s other policies
  • these principles relate to the school’s overall aims and relate to the rest of the curriculum.

Set specific but realistic targets for improving and maintaining attendance figures.

Set specific but realistic targets for improving and maintaining attendance figures and review the resources a school invests in improving attendance.

Details of the school’s partnership agreement with the School Attendance Support Service: 

  • the legal responsibilities of the LA, school and parents should be cited
  • emphasis on a partnership approach between senior management, governors, and those working to support attendance with parents and pupils should be outlined


  • the stages, processes and staffing involved in registration
  • the system for lateness
  • how and when problems with attendance are communicated to parents
  • processes used to reintegrate students returning to school after an absence
  • referral criteria to support service

Strategies used by the school in the area of attendance:

  • how rewards and sanctions are used to encourage regular attendance
  • methods and means of achieving the school’s strategies, including any training required for staff involved in implementation

  • How the school will evaluate the effectiveness of its strategies
  • When will monitoring and evaluation take place?
  • Who will be involved in monitoring and evaluation and how will they contribute?
  • How evaluations will be fed back into policy

Where possible and practicable schools should record registration electronically.

Electronic attendance registration software enables more effective and efficient monitoring of attendance on a daily basis as well as allowing the identification of longer-term trends in absence which can be used to inform school policy and practice.

Electronic packages that automate the contacting of parents to inform them of their child’s absence have also proven effective in reducing absence and locating children and young people. It also enables registration for each lesson, and the identification of lateness and post-registration truancy.

Registration procedures need to be clearly outlined in the school’s attendance policy and repeated in the staff handbook.

Accurate recording is essential in order to meet legal requirements and promote the safety of all pupils.

Different schools will have different procedures for allocating attendance and absence codes. In most schools, this will involve the form or class teacher; however, it is important for all staff to have a general understanding of when each code may be used and its statistical meaning.

Staff responsible for entering codes should have a thorough understanding of the issues regarding attendance. Staff should also be aware of when and to whom they should refer instances of absence in accordance with school guidelines.

For example, a school might decide that it requires tutors to refer all pupils when absence through sickness exceeds a certain percentage in the year. Clear guidance also needs to be given on what constitutes ‘other authorised circumstances’ so that a consistent approach is maintained across the school.

See full guidance on the use of codes and an explanation of the regulations governing the keeping of pupil registers.

All schools hold a great deal of information about attendance.

Schools that have been successful in improving attendance and reducing persistent absence have a clear understanding of the attendance issues within the school - they identify these through analysis of data. Anecdotal evidence about reasons for absence and patterns of absence can be misleading.

Attendance data helps strategic planning and can enable schools to manage attendance issues more effectively.

Whole school attendance figures produced monthly, termly or yearly, based on year groups, can indicate factors such as:

  • declining attendance in year groupings
  • the effect of seasonal attendance e.g. attendance may decline during colder months and preceding school holidays

Weekly figures may illustrate the:

  • effect of staff absenteeism
  • all in attendance preceding teacher training days, half terms, study leave or work experience
  • effect of ending terms on a Monday or Tuesday
  • effect of activity days, day trips or residential trips
  • effect of the timing of the school day
  • effect of pupil holidays in term time

Continuous analysis of individual pupil attendance and of the whole school can give scope for strategic planning. By identifying those levels which the school considers are indicators of persistent absenteeism or irregular attendance, it is possible to identify the extent of the problem.

The school can then target time provided by the education welfare officer and pastoral staff more effectively by producing:

  • individual attendance records which highlight reasons for absence and the pattern and rate of unauthorised absence
  • obtain lists of all pupils with unexplained absence which can be fed back to the responsible member of staff

The pastoral staff will then be able to identify those pupils who give cause for concern. Coded absence, broken down into a class and/or group format, would allow identification of excessive unauthorised absences.

Schools should emphasise parents’ prime responsibility for ensuring attendance by asking parents to inform them as soon as possible if their child will not be attending school on a particular day.

If a pupil is absent without explanation, school administrative staff should, wherever possible, contact the parents that same day, including in cases where the pupil skips lessons after registration.

A declared and active policy of first day contact makes clear to pupils and parents that absence is a matter of concern and will be followed up. By contacting the parent the school also ensures that the parent is aware that their child is not in school enabling the parent to take steps, where necessary, to establish that their child is safe.

This approach is made easier if the school has electronic registration which can automatically generate contact lists for absent pupils.

Where the absence is due to illness, school staff should ensure that they speak to the parent about the reasons for absence. They should refer to the Department of Health (DoH) guidance on infection control in schools and other childcare settings (2016) for guidance on the length of absence. Whilst this will not eradicate absence through illness it may reduce the number of days lost.

Schools can raise the profile of attendance with parents and the wider community through the use of home-school agreements, parents’ evenings, school newsletters, or other communications.

Many schools send out letters automatically if attendance falls below a certain level.

Posters and leaflets can be used in numerous ways to promote attendance. These can cover every feature of attendance and can be distributed through schools as well as locations such as libraries, leisure centres and other community focussed locations. Some authorities have used websites or promotional advert slots on local radio in order to ensure that the issue remains in the public domain.

Others produce information booklets for schools to distribute 4 to parents advising of school attendance regulations, child employment and the role of the Educational Inclusion and Partnership Team. These can be paid for by selling advertising space to local companies.

When welcoming and inducting new parents and pupils it is important to raise awareness of the importance of punctuality and attendance. As part of staff induction brief new staff on the school’s philosophy on attendance and introduce them to their responsibilities for attendance management.

Communicate frequently with parents about positive achievements and improvements and in ways which emphasise the responsibility and role of parents in partnership with the school.

Ensure parents are welcomed into the school and can gain easy access to staff.

It can be helpful to issue regular reminders to parents of school procedures for notifying the school of a pupil’s absence. Some schools have installed a dedicated ‘attendance’ telephone line specifically for parents to inform the school of absences.  

To overcome attendance problems, it can be useful to have meetings with parents to discuss strategies in school and at home which encourage regular school attendance and the production of an action plan for improving attendance.

Draw up a parenting contract - this is a contract drawn up between the school and the child's parents to improve the child's attendance record and prevent legal action being taken. You can email us at [email protected] to request a template.

The use of targeted intervention and support in areas of specific need can be very effective in improving attendance, particularly when working in partnership with the School Attendance Support Service and the local authority. Consider starting an Early Help Assessment.

Research has shown that rewards are far more effective than punishment in motivating pupils.

As well as encouraging and rewarding attendance, these schemes can also increase the profile of attendance, both within the school and in the wider community.

Letters to parents and carers and special privileges are amongst many particularly effective ways of demonstrating praise for good or improved attendance. A more formal reward system of credits, merits and prizes can be used to recognise and congratulate pupils.

When a pupil has been late or absent it is important to positively welcome them into the class on their return. By offering extended support and ensuring absent pupils have work adapted to help them catch up will help minimise problems on their return to school.

The use of both scheduled and unscheduled checks can be used to monitor lateness.

“Late gates” is one initiative that has been used in both primary and secondary schools.  

This involves school staff taking the names of late arrivals. Letters are then sent home informing parents that their child has been stopped for being late. All parents are informed beforehand that the “Late gate” will be happening but are not given a specific date. 

The transition between primary and secondary school represents a major change for most pupils and research shows that many can experience a slowing down of their progress.

It is important for both primary and secondary school attendance policies to identify year 6 and 7 pupils in particular need of support.

Secondary schools and their feeder primary schools need to work together to put in place arrangements to manage the transition.

Issuing a penalty notice

Penalty notices can be issued under the following circumstances as an alternative to Magistrates' Court proceedings. However we would expect schools to follow their attendance procedures in identifying the issues and putting support in place.

  • Penalty notices for non-school attendance - to issue a penalty notice, there should be 5 days (10 sessions) or more unauthorised absences in a 6 week period.
  • Penalty notices for term time absence - to issue a penalty notice, there should be 5 days (10 sessions) or more of consecutive unauthorised absence.

Before issuing a penalty notice, please ensure you have completed the penalty notice checklist below.

Our enforcement policy below aims to promote good practice and the principals for good enforcement, summarising how to conduct enforcement with openness, setting standards and consistency.

The criteria below is best practice for schools considering the use of a penalty notice and does not replace existing legislation nor associated evidential burden.

Before completing form

  • Has the period for which the PN is requested been recorded as unauthorised?
  • Are there any missing marks or coding irregularities?
  • Does coding on the register accurately reflect the dates for which the PN is being requested?
  • Is the reason for the request indicated on the form (e.g. unauthorised holiday or unauthorised absence)?
  • Have the parents or carers been informed that they could receive a PN?

Criteria for issuing a penalty notice

  • 5 days or more continuous absence
  • Can be used as a sanction for irregular attendance. A PN may be used in this instance where a pupil accumulates 10 sessions of unauthorised absence within a 6-week period

Documentation to accompany irregular attendance request

  • Completed contact form
  • Attendance certificate ensuring all absences are coded as unauthorised (e.g. no ‘N’ codes)
  • Evidence of actions taken – letters issued, notes of meetings held, Parent Contact Meeting (PCM) chronology, offer of Early Help Assessment (EHA)  
  • Evidence that the parent or carer has been notified that they may receive a PN (this can be within documentation of school website, in behaviour policy, in newsletters to parents etc

If a Leave of Absence Request Form is completed by parent or carer

  • Copy of request for leave of absence received from parent/carer and signed by all relevant parents or carers and any letter pertaining to that request
  • Signed evidence that school have informed parent or carer in writing that absence will be unauthorised and that this could lead to a PN being issued
  • Reasons for not authorising the holiday should be clearly stated to parent or carer
  • Up to date registration certificate showing the period of absence as unauthorised ‘G’

If a Leave of Absence Request Form has not been completed by parent or carer

  • Up to date attendance certificate showing the period of absence as unauthorised ‘G’ and the date of return
  • Evidence as to why the school believe that the absence was for the purpose of a leave of absence
  • Signed copy of letter to parent from the head teacher stating that the absence will be coded as unauthorised as it is believed to be for the purposes of a leave of absence without exceptional circumstance and that this could lead to a PN being issued

Completing contact form

  • Parents’ full name and surname - please include parents’ date of birth where known
  • If there are 2 parents, details of both parents should be completed
  • Address should be checked
  • A PN will be issued individually to both parent or carers
  • The contact form should only be submitted once the child has returned to school - if the child fails to return, then the school should follow their missing child procedures
  • Documentation provided by the school which supports the request for a PN by the Local Authority can be used as evidence should any legal action be taken - all cases where there is non-payment of the PN would be considered for a prosecution under s.444 of the Education Act 1996
  • In the event that the case proceeds to a prosecution, school staff may be required to provide a written witness statement and may be required to give evidence in court

Attendance enforcement policy

Read the attendance enforcement policy in full. 

Code of conduct

Read the code of conduct for administering Penalty Notices

Request intervention from a School Attendance Officer

If you have explored the options above, but are continuing to have issues with the child’s attendance, you may be able to get support from a School Attendance Officer.

We investigate cases of irregular attendance, provide advice to resolve problems and if necessary carry out legal enforcement measures.

You can request support using the online form below. The referral may not be accepted if you have not explored the reasons for the child’s attendance issues and looked at support.

Last updated 22 May 2024