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If your child is of compulsory school age 5 to 16 yeras old, you are required by law (Section 7 of the Education Act 1996) to make sure that they receive a full time education suitable to his or her needs (about 25 hours a week for primary aged children and 27.5 for secondary), either by attendance at school or through some other means (e.g. home educating). 

The education must be:

  • Full time.

  • Efficient - the education must achieve what it sets out to achieve.

  • Suitable to his/her age, ability and aptitude and any special educational needs he or she may have.


What is compulsory school age?

A child is of compulsory school age the first term after their 5th birthday until the end of the academic year of their 16th birthday.

- Children who turn 5 between 1st January and 31st March will be of compulsory school age at the beginning of the school term after 1st April.

- Children who turn 5 between 1st April and 31st August will be of compulsory school age at the beginning of the school term after 1st September.

- Children who turn 5 between 1st September and 31st December will be of compulsory school age at the beginning of the school term after 1st January.

A child remains of compulsory school age until the last Friday in June in the school year that they turn 16. 

In 2015 it was announced that the young person must then do one of the following until they're 18: 

- stay in full-time education, for example at a college

- start an apprenticeship or traineeship. Click on the words to find out more about apprenticeship or traineeship

- spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training


School Attendance - The Law

The Registration (Pupil Registration) Regulations 2006 require a school to put a child's name on the admissions register on the first day that the child is expected to attend school. If the pupil does not attend they will be recorded as absent. This can be marked as authorised or unauthorised absence.

There are a few reasons a school will authorise an absence. For example, if your child is too ill to attend, or if you have been given permission from the school in advance. Other reasons might include attending medical appointments, or if the child has been excluded.  Term time holidays will usually only be authorised under exceptional circumstances.

Schools have to inform the local authority of any pupils who are regularly absent from school, have irregular attendance, or have missed 10 school days or more without the school's permission. 

Schools are also under a safeguarding duty, under section 175 of the Education Act 2002 to investigate any unexplained absences.

Every child has a right to an education and it is illegal for a parent/carer to fail to provide, a child of compulsory school age, with an education.

You can ask the local authority and the school to help you if you are having problems getting your child to school.  One way you can work together is by agreeing a plan to improve your child’s attendance, called a "parenting contract". This is a voluntary agreement but if the LA later decides to pursue a prosecution it can be used as evidence. The LA or school governing body should fund any support needed to implement the "parenting contract".

Find out more about information about Westminster's Children Missing Education Policy here.

What sanctions can be put in place for non-attendance?

Parents can be issued a Fixed Penalty Notice (a fine) by the school, local authority or police, for their child's non-attendance. Each local authority should publish a Code of Conduct for Fixed Penalty Notices.

In a worst case scenario, parents can also be taken to court and prosecuted for non attendence.

Holidays in term time

You have to get permission from the head teacher if you want to take your child out of school during term time.

You can only do this if:

  • you make an application to the head teacher in advance (as a parent the child normally lives with)

  • there are exceptional circumstances

It’s up to the head teacher how many days your child can be away from school if leave is granted.

You can be fined for taking your child on holiday during termtime with the school's permission. Find out what action the government may take with a fine by clicking here for more information on ​fines 

Guidance on infection control in schools - when should a child stay away from school or nursery?

Click on this link to read a document that provides guidance for schools and other childcare settings, such as nurseries, on infection control issues. It gives helpful information on when children should be kept away from school to prevent the spread of infection. Please see our separate Covid-19 page for specific information and advice related to Coronavirus.


Here are some links to websites that have useful information. You will need to click on the links here to go to the websites: