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 3: Using the law when children do not attend school

This booklet stresses the need to help children get to school regularly; and that when there are difficulties that these are best solved when parents, children, schools and other agencies work together.

If your child has problems with attending school, and you feel that your child's school is not doing enough, or if you feel anxious or confused about what you can do, it may be helpful to talk to one of the helping agencies listed at the end of this booklet.

It is important to remember that:

  • Your child's school has a responsibility to provide your child with as much support as they can to help them get to school and to ensure that when they are there they are happy, safe and learning.
  • As a parent you are legally responsible for making sure that your child is educated. Once you enrol your child at school the law says the child must attend school unless you, the parent, have permission from the education authority to withdraw your child.
  • If you find that you have made every effort to resolve things with your school but that you have been unsuccessful at agreeing a way forward, you can contact the Director of Education at your Local Authority who will be best placed to respond.

If communication breaks down between you and your child's school or education authority, and the problem of non-attendance remains, then an education authority can decide that they have done enough to support a child but a parent is not doing what they can. In these circumstances the education authority can use the law to insist that a parent does more to get their child to school. The things that we describe in the next page are called measures for compulsory compliance. It is rare for these things to be used but it is important to realise that they can be used.

Information about measures for compulsory compliance

Please remember this booklet does not provide detailed legal advice. If any of the following procedures are being discussed with you, or are happening to your family you must get proper legal advice. There are contact details for helping agencies at the back of the booklet.

If any of the measures described below are to be used children and young people should be kept involved and informed about what is happening. Children, especially if they have enough understanding of what is happening, can attend meetings.

Attendance order: If your child is off school it is your responsibility as parent to give a reason why. If the education authority decides that your child does not have a reasonable reason for being off school, and if in discussion with you it seems that the problem of non attendance can't be solved, then the education authority can make an attendance order. This order is taken against you, the parent. If you are served with an attendance order you as parent are under a duty to get your child to school regularly.

Anti-social behaviour order: Not going to school isn't necessarily considered to be anti-social behaviour but if your child isn't attending school they might be involved in anti-social behaviour in the community. A local council can apply for an anti-social behaviour order under the Anti-social Behaviour (Scotland) Act 2004. They do this if they think your child is at risk of being involved in persistent anti-social behaviour. A condition of the order might be that your son or daughter must improve their school attendance.

Parenting order: If a child or young person is involved in persistent anti-social behaviour or criminal conduct, or action is needed to improve his or her welfare, a court may make a parenting order requiring a parent to comply with any requirements specified in the order. The parent must also attend counselling or guidance sessions as directed by the local council responsible for supervising the order. A parenting order will only be applied for when all attempts at persuading or supporting you to act voluntarily in support of your child have failed. If a parenting order is given the local council will name a worker to work with you in a programme designed to improve your parenting.

Acceptable behaviour contract: This is an agreement between a person who has been involved in anti-social behaviour and an agency (like a school, or a housing agency, or the Police) whose job it is to prevent more anti-social behaviour. These contracts are informal and used to explain clearly what the agency and the person will do to improve behaviour. They can be used with parents or carers if an agency wants them to make a difference to the behaviour of their child; including in relation to a child's attendance at school.

Can my child be referred to the Children's Reporter if there are problems with school attendance?

If a school feels that it cannot successfully work with you to improve your child's attendance at school it might involve other services like Social Work or Children's Services in the Council or a voluntary sector agency who it works with to support families.

Then, if the school feels that there is still not enough cooperation and progress - and it has other worries about your child on top of not attending school - it might decide to make a referral to the Children's Reporter.

The Reporter is the person who will decide if a child needs to be referred to a Children's Hearing. Children's Hearings are a way of addressing all kinds of situations where a child or young person is in need of care and protection or if they have committed an offence. Anyone who is concerned about a child or young person can tell the Children's Reporter about their worries.

When the Reporter gets a referral, she/he must make an initial investigation before deciding what action, if any, is necessary in the child's interests. The Reporter decides on the next step. She or he might decide:

  • That no further action is required. The Reporter will write to the child/young person and usually the parent to tell them of this decision.
  • To refer the child or young person to the local authority so that advice, guidance and assistance can be given on an informal and voluntary basis. This usually involves support from a social worker.
  • Arrange a Children's Hearing because she/he considers that compulsory measures of supervision are necessary for the child.

If the Reporter decides a Hearing is necessary, decisions about the child's needs are made by a Children's Hearing which is made up of three members of the public who have received training. The Reporter gets information about the child to help them make a decision - they might speak to a social worker if the child has one, or their teacher.

There is more information about Children's Hearings at:



Scottish Government
Learning Directorate
Victoria Quay

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