Unauthorized Absence from School: Impact On Your Child?


  1. Why you should avoid unauthorized absences from school
  2. How to help your child recover from school absences
  3. List of exceptional circumstances for school absence in the UK
  4. School Absence FAQs

Attending school regularly and receiving a good education is key for children’s future. As parents, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your child is in full-time education while they’re of compulsory school age.  

All kids will occasionally need a day off from school, whether it’s due to illness, holidays or an unexpected family emergency – but many parents may be unsure of the rules and expectations related to school absences. In this article, we’ll share all the facts you need to know about unauthorized absence from school.


Why you should avoid unauthorized absences from school


It’s a parent’s legal responsibility to make sure their child is attending school regularly, and avoiding unauthorised absences from school as much as possible. In the event of an unauthorized absence, the school will note this on your child’s attendance record. 

It’s important to distinguish between authorised and unauthorised absence from school. If you have a valid reason for taking your child out of school for a day or more, you can get permission granted and the leave will be noted down as an authorised absence. 📋


Avoiding unauthorised absence from school is important for many reasons: 

  • School attendance is strongly correlated with academic success – good attendance leads to better grades and higher scores in examinations 
  • A solid attendance record improves your child’s chances of advancing to higher education and leads to better job prospects after leaving school
  • Kids missing school regularly disrupts school routines and can impact other children’s learning
  • Attending school regularly helps children develop a range of skills and knowledge beyond academics, such as social skills, cultural awareness, development of values and life skills as well as building friendships 
  • A high level of school absence can disrupt children’s social relationships and alienate them from their peers 

Legally, parents are committing an offence if their child doesn’t attend school regularly without the absences being authorised by the school. If a child has a high level of unauthorised absences from school, a referral may be made to the Education Welfare Service (EWS). Parents can be fined or prosecuted if their children fail to attend school regularly.


Understanding the importance of regular attendance 

It’s important to understand how integral it is for your kid’s learning that they attend school regularly. Your child’s school will advise you of your child’s attendance levels minimum once a year, and it’s important for you to keep track of your kid’s percentage of attendance during the school year. 

In the UK, there are no specific attendance targets set forth by the government, but each school usually sets their own targets. An attendance rate of 95% is generally considered good in UK schools, but you should check your child’s school’s individual policy and goals with regards to school attendance. 

In general, a pupil’s attendance should not fall below 90 per cent. To put this into context, an attendance rate of 90 per cent would mean that your child has missed: 

  • 19 days of the school year (almost 4 weeks of schooling)
  • Around 120 hours of guided learning

With these figures in mind, it’s no surprise that children with a high absence rate usually fall behind in their learning!


How is unauthorized absence from school tracked? 

All schools in the UK have a responsibility to track the attendance of all pupils. Your child’s school will record attendance at the beginning of class in the morning and in the afternoon. This means that each child will receive two half day marks each day they attend school. 

The unauthorised absence of any child from school is recorded, and schools are required to investigate students with high levels of school absences. 🔍


How to help your child recover from school absences


As a parent, you’re likely keen for your child to avoid unauthorised absence from school – but sometimes, it is inevitable. If you’ve had to take your child out of school for whatever reason, it’s a good idea to be mindful of how you can help them recover from the missed learning without falling behind. 

Though parents may not think a day or two out of school would cause any issues for their child, absence from school can have a surprising impact on children. Research shows that each day a student is absent from school results in around 0.3-0.4% of a standard deviation reduction in their achievement.

The steps you should take to recover from school absences depend on how long the child was out of school and their individual circumstances. If your child missed a day or two of school due to illness, they will usually be able to get up to speed quickly. However, if your child has been absent from school for a longer period of time or if you believe they may need more leave, we would recommend that you reach out to the school. 

Communicating well with your child’s teachers and the school’s administration staff is key in ensuring that your child is supported in their learning journey even if they’ve had to take some time away from school. Together, you will be able to discuss your approach to the issue and work out a learning plan to ensure your child won’t fall behind. ✔️

If your child is struggling to keep up with their schooling, one-on-one support in the form of online tutoring may be helpful. At GoStudent, our experienced and friendly tutors tailor sessions to each child’s individual needs, and we can provide the extra support your child might need to fill in any knowledge gaps following absence from school. 


Is it difficult for your child to attend school regularly? 

Most parents in the UK prefer to have their children educated within the official school system, but homeschooling is also a valid option if you and your child feel that this would be a better fit. For children with long-term illnesses or other complications that make regular school attendance difficult, homeschooling may be a better option. 

Keep in mind that there is extra support available for children with medical conditions – finding out the individual school’s policy on this is the first step towards getting your child the help they need.


List of exceptional circumstances for school absence in the UK


Guidelines from the Department for Education (DfE) state that children can only miss school if they’re ill, or if permission has been granted in advance from a head teacher. While children are usually not granted leave of absence during term time, the head teacher at your child’s school has the authority to approve leave for your child in the event of exceptional circumstances. 

As a parent, you don’t have the right to have your child take time off during the school term – you will need to request authorisation for any absences your kid may need. Whether the request is granted is up to the discretion of the head teacher, and each application will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. 


The following may be accepted as exceptional circumstances for your child to be absent from school:  

  • Illness (if your child falls ill, the school must be notified on the morning of the first day they are absent from school)
  • Leave of absence authorised by the head teacher (for example in the event of a bereavement)
  • Holidays authorised by the head teacher (holidays are only approved in exceptional circumstances, and the head teacher will specify how many days of leave have been granted)
  • Religious observance (a student can be approved absence from school on days exclusively set aside for religious observance if their parents are members of the relevant religious community)
  • Gypsy, Roma and Traveller absence (students from GRT families are granted leave  when the family is travelling for trade or occupational purposes)
  • Off-site educational activities (pupils may be approved leave to attend music, dance or drama exams, or take part in a sporting event – permission is solely at the school’s discretion)


School Absence FAQs


What does unauthorized absence mean at school?

An unauthorised absence from school is when a child is not in attendance at school without prior approval from the school. UK schools check children’s attendance twice per school day by taking a register, and if your child has missed school without a valid reason, the absence will be recorded as unauthorised.  

Unauthorised school absence initiated by you as a parent is different from truancy. Some parents may experience that their child is skipping class or failing to attend school without their knowledge. If your child is truanting and you find it difficult to get them to go to school, you should bring this up with the school as soon as possible so that they can support you. The EWS is also available and can offer a range of advice and support that can improve your child’s attendance at school. 


How many unauthorised absences are allowed in UK schools?

There is no specific number of unauthorised absences from school that are allowed in the UK. The rules differ across the different counties and also depend on the individual circumstances surrounding the unauthorised leave. 

However, unauthorised absences should be avoided wherever possible in order to ensure that children gain a consistent education and won’t be missing out on important schooling. 

  • If a child has an attendance rate below 90 per cent, this is considered Persistent Absence 
  • If a child accrues 10 sessions of unauthorised absence from school, the parents may receive a fine in the form of a penalty notice 
  • Each school day involves a morning and an afternoon session, meaning one day’s absence will amount to two missed sessions for your child 
  • The school is required to notify local authorities if a child has had 5 days of unauthorised absence


What can happen if my child misses too much school?

Your child’s school is legally obligated to report pupils’ poor attendance to the local authority. 

The local authority or council may then decide to prosecute the student’s parents for failing to make sure their child attends school regularly. 

This could lead to:  

  • Fines of up to £2,500 
  • Imprisonment 
  • A Parenting Order (the parent must attend a counselling and guidance programme)


How to challenge unauthorized absence decisions at school 

For parents, keeping the number of unauthorised absences down is a key priority. If you believe your child should have been granted authorised absence in a particular situation, we would recommend that you bring this up with the school. 

Keep in mind that the decision to authorise leave during term time is within the head teacher’s discretion, but raising your concern with the school administration may be helpful, especially if you have other information or evidence to share which could support your case. ☝️


How to report a student absence?

If you need to take your child out of school for a day or more, you should apply to your child’s school for permission in advance. Depending on the rules and guidelines of each individual school, this may include filling in a request form. The head teacher will then review your application and make a decision based on the information you have provided.

We hope this article helped you get to grips with the rules around unauthorized absence from school, and why it’s so important to avoid poor attendance. Having to take your kids out of school for a day or two occasionally is usually nothing to worry about – especially if you make an effort to ensure they catch up when they’re back at school. If you want to give your child a learning boost, why not try a free trial lesson with GoStudent? Our expert tutors can get them up to speed in no time!

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