Understanding School Absence Management

Apr 21, 2023

Zatpark school absence enforcement solutions - image of children working at desks in a primary school class room

Understanding absenteeism and how school absence management systems can help

School absenteeism, often called truancy, refers to pupils who are absent from school without a valid reason or permission. It can be argued that education underpins a civil society, enables prosperity, and supports a healthy economy. Education is crucial in allowing all children to reach their full potential, and absenteeism is one of the biggest barriers to this.

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What is School Absenteeism?

By law, children in the UK are required to get an education between the ages of 5 to 16. Parents or guardians must ensure their children attend full-time education that meets their needs and must either send them to school or educate them at home.

If a child is absent from school, even for a day, parents will be contacted by the school. This is because all schools are legally obliged to inform their local education authority of any child not attending regularly. School absenteeism referrals are overseen by the local Education Welfare Service (EWS).

What is an Education Welfare Service (EWS)?

Local Councils have an Education Welfare Service (EWS) whose aim is to ensure every child can access education in a safe environment. The EWS monitors school pupil attendance to ensure school attendance is in line with Department for Education (DfE) targets. The DfE provides attendance guidance for maintained schools, academies, independent schools and each local authority EWS. The EWS provide advice and guidance to schools on attendance issues and also works with schools and other agencies to improve school attendance in their locality.

Zatpark education enforcement - teacher at the front of a classroom with students listening

Authorised vs Unauthorised School Absence

All schools, including independent schools, except boarding schools, must maintain an attendance register by law under The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006. Any pupil that doesn’t attend school is recorded as absent. School absence can be authorised or unauthorised. 

Authorised Absence

The school can authorise pupil absence for many reasons including:

  • The child is ill.
  • The parent has advanced permission to attend a religious occasion.
  • The child has a medical or dental appointment.
  • The parent has advanced permission to take the child on holiday which has been approved due to exceptional circumstances.
  • The child has been excluded from school.

Unauthorised Absence

Parents and guardians must aim to ensure their child attends school for at least 95% of the school year. If the child’s attendance during each school term consistently drops below an expected level the school will send the parents warning letters requiring them to ensure the child attends school.

All schools must inform their local education authority of any child not attending regularly. If parents don’t ensure their child regularly attends school they may be liable to pay a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) fine.

School Absence Enforcement

School Non-attendance Fines

Unauthorised absence can happen for many reasons. School staff responsible for child welfare will identify children who are regularly absent from school and will work with the family to improve their attendance. Absence can often be a symptom of issues the family or a child is experiencing, and this is when the school will work with other agencies to resolve or improve the situation.

If a child’s absence is purely down to their parents not ensuring they attend school the headteacher can ask the Local Authority to issue the parents with a Fixed Penalty Notice. If parents decide to take their child on holiday without authorisation from the head teacher they may also be issued with a penalty notice. It’s important to note that the fine doesn’t come from the school. Only Local Authorities can issue Fixed Penalty Notices as part of their attendance and enforcement policy.

Parents who are issued a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) by the Local Authority are liable to pay £60, payable within 28 days. If the fine is not paid within 21 days, it rises to £120. Parents cannot appeal against a fine of this sort. 

If the fine is not paid within 28 days, the Local Authority can choose to withdraw the notice or decide to prosecute. Only the Local Authority can prosecute parents, and they must conduct their investigations in line with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE).

School Absence Offences

There are two offences that parents can be prosecuted for:

  • If the child’s absence is unauthorised, then the parent is guilty of an offence under Section 444(1) Education Act 1996. All the Local Authority must do is show that there has been a lack of attendance. In this situation, the fine can be up to £1,000.
  • In extreme circumstances, the parents may have committed an aggravated offence under Section 444(1A) Education Act 1996. For example, if the parent was fully aware of the child’s absence but refused to act, they can be fined up to £2,500 or receive a prison sentence of up to 3 months. 

Ultimately, parents can be prosecuted for not giving their children an education. 

Enforcing School Absenteeism

Managing absenteeism is a huge challenge for school leadership teams when enforcing school attendance. School staff resources are extremely stretched, as in many other public services. Following a school attendance enforcement procedure is a big headache for school staff. Monitoring attendance and issuing warning letters to parents takes a huge amount of administrative time and resources from teaching staff that could otherwise be spent on educating children. Equally, Local Authorities may use their limited staff resources to manually issue absenteeism penalties to parents. The follow-up processes may also be time-intensive, such as reminders, final warning letters, and gathering evidence packs for prosecution.

As part of the UK Government’s Digital Transformation Strategy, many Councils are now looking for technology solutions that help streamline these processes and save money. Many already use enforcement technology for managing services such as car parks and residential parking permits. Some advanced enforcement management solutions like Zatpark can be used for any type of enforcement, including issuing FPNs for absenteeism. 

As the UK’s Digital Transformation Strategy rolls out over the coming years, Local Government systems will become more integrated. The drive towards smart cities will mean that Councils procure flexible technology systems that can solve more than one problem. Zatpark’s ability to enforce parking and environmental contraventions, School Streets Schemes, parent absenteeism contraventions, permits and more makes it the perfect solution for Local Authority digital transformation programmes.

Technology and Government strategy support each other to achieve goals but there is no more important goal than providing an education for every child and enabling them to reach their full potential.

Contact us to learn how Zatpark can help with school absence enforcement

Read our North East Lincolnshire Council Case Study

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UK Government’s Digital Transformation Strategy
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE)
Section 444(1) Education Act 1996
Section 444(1A) Education Act 1996
UK Government – Legal action to enforce school attendance
Devon Gov.UK – Education welfare service and pupil attendance
DfE School Attendance Guidance 2022
ChildLawAdvice.org – School attendance and absence
The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006

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