School attendance: a guide for parents

Responsibilities of parents in relation to a child's attendance at school and support available if attendance is a problem.

Part 1: Attending school

What is attendance?

Attendance means that your child is taking part in a programme of educational activities arranged and agreed by your child's school. Of course this means going to the school, but it can also include:

  • Going to college or to another unit outside the school.
  • Visits to outdoor centres; this could be for the day or for residentials.
  • Interviews and visits to do with college or careers events.
  • Sports, musical or drama activities organised by the school in school hours.
  • Study leave during the National Exam timetable.
  • Going outside the school for support with learning or behaviour if it is arranged or agreed by the school.
  • Getting tuition if your child is in hospital or tuition at home if this has been agreed.
  • Being on work experience.

Is it ever alright for my child to be off school?

Your child can be off school if:

  • They are ill.
  • They are attending a doctor or hospital appointment.
  • They are going to a meeting about a Children's Hearing or court, or if they are going to a Children's Hearing, care review or court.
  • If they are involved in an activity and the school agrees in advance.
  • Someone close to your child has died.
  • There is a crisis or serious difficulty at home or in your family.
  • They are going to a religious ceremony or a wedding of someone very close to them.
  • You are a Gypsy/Traveller family and while you go travelling you keep in touch with your child's teacher.
  • Your family is returning to a country of origin for cultural reasons or to care for a relative.

As long as you have informed the school of the reason why your child is off, and the school is satisfied that this is a valid reason, these would be called authorised absences.

If you know that your child will be off school, for example if they have an appointment or important meeting to attend, it is important for you to inform the school in advance.

What happens if my child is ill and can't go to school?

You need to inform the school by phone or by a letter/note as early as possible on the first day your child is off school. The school may ask you if you know when your child will be back at school.

When your child returns to school you should write a letter to the school that explains the reason for your child being off school.

If your child is off school because of a long term illness or condition your education authority must make arrangements for your child so they can keep learning. This might include sending work home so your child doesn't miss too much. If your child is to be off in the longer term other arrangements can be made. You should discuss this with your child's school as soon as you can.

What does the school do if my child is off school?

Unless you have already contacted them to explain the absence your child's school will try to find out why your child is off school.

Some schools will telephone you if your child does not arrive at morning registration. Because schools might do different things you can ask what your child's school normally does if your child is off school.

You need to keep your child's school up to date with your contact details.

Can I find out how many absences my child has had?

You have the right to know the number of absences that your child has had.

Schools take a register in the morning and after lunch. In secondary schools there is often a note taken of the pupils present in each lesson.

What about family holidays during term-time?

Schools will not normally give a family permission to take pupils out of school for holidays during term-time. This means that if your child is off school because you are away on holiday the school will record this as an unauthorised absence. It is up to education authorities to decide what sanctions they will use if there is an unauthorised absence.

There are some circumstances where permission might be given for a holiday during term-time. This would include when:

  • A family needs time together to recover from distress.
  • A family holiday is restricted to term-time because of the parent's job (for example a parent is in the armed services or emergency services).
  • There are other circumstances considered to be exceptional.

For more information about other reasons for your child being off school during term-time see the earlier section called: Is it ever alright for my child to be off school?

What is truancy?

If your child stays off school without permission and without good reason this is called truancy. Truancy can happen when a pupil doesn't attend for just a part of the day, or for the whole day.

Sometimes truancy happens because the pupil is unhappy at school. Maybe the pupil is being bullied, or struggling with their learning, or there is conflict with teachers or other pupils.

Parents must remember that they should not ignore or agree with or condone their child's truancy.

Schools must do what they can to find out why a pupil is truanting, they must listen to you and your child's concerns. When they find out what the pupil is struggling with or worrying about they must take action.

There may be reasons for truancy that are not to do with what's happening in school. Some pupils can have difficulties at home or in the community. This is when schools need to work closely with pupils and their families, and with other helping professionals, to make sure that everything is done to help the pupil stay engaged with learning and with school.

What should I do if my child is anxious or worried about going to school?

Your child has a right to an education and to be safe and happy at school. But sometimes children and young people can be anxious or worried about going to school. This can happen for lots of reasons but can happen when they have a worry about something like homework, or a class test, or if they are being bullied or if they have fallen out with other children or a teacher.

Sometimes parents let their child stay off school because they think the school isn't handling these kinds of things well enough. Unfortunately this will not help find a solution. It's important to talk to the school if this kind of problem happens.

If you feel confident enough you should contact a member of staff at the school with any worry your child has which is affecting them getting to school. If you would prefer to have some help or support to approach the school you can ask for help from another professional person you know. If you would like to talk to someone about your child's worries or concerns there is more information about agencies you can phone for help and advice at the end of this booklet.



Scottish Government
Learning Directorate
Victoria Quay

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