5. Managing authorised absence
5.1 Authorised absence
School staff are best placed to decide the school’s most appropriate response to requests for absence to be authorised. Schools may authorise absence when they are satisfied by the reason provided, usually by the parent (via a note, email or phone call), self-certified or sometimes may be provided by another service provider. Reasons for authorised absence can include:
- Illness where no learning provision is made (including ongoing mental health concerns)
- Medical and dental appointments to be recorded in separate category (see section 5.3)
- Meetings prior to, and during court appearances and other legal processes
- Attendance at, or in connection with, a Children’s Hearing or Care Review, or appointment with another service provider, e.g. social worker
- Religious observance
- Weddings or funerals of close friends and family
- Arranged absence in relation to children in Gypsy/Traveller families (see section 5.4)
- Participation in non-school debates, sports, musical or drama activities agreed by the school
- Lack of transport – including due to bad weather
- Family recovery from exceptional domestic circumstances or trauma
- Period of exclusion to be recorded in a separate category
- Extended leave with parental consent including some young carer activities
5.2 Ensuring support for children with ongoing authorised absence
Some children or young people will have a high degree of interaction with a range of services and with other systems, such as children’s hearings, courts or involvement with social workers for supervision or care planning. While absences for these reasons may be recorded as authorised absence, it is important for agencies to recognise that education can act as a protective factor and that continuity of schooling, stability and consistency are crucial to vulnerable children and young people. This should all be set within the education authority’s approach to ‘Getting it right for every child’.
Schools may authorise absence where families are experiencing exceptional domestic circumstances or traumatic events such as family bereavement. However, authorising absence should not delay the process of considering how the school and other partners can plan to support the child or young person and family, helping to minimise longer term absence. For children and young people who are care experienced, the authorisation of absence for exceptional domestic circumstances should be considered carefully with multi-agency partners to consider whether absence from school is in fact beneficial. The school and partners should ensure that appropriate supports are in place.
Some children and young people may have experienced a range of adversities alongside other factors which can impact their attendance. Erratic attendance at school may be due to circumstances affecting a family, such as domestic abuse, parental involvement in substance misuse, or a child or young person having carer responsibilities. It may be challenging for a child or young person living in these circumstances to attend school. It is important for a school to maintain a positive and trusting relationship with children and young people as this can be an important source of consistent and long term support. All staff within schools should recognise that they have an additional responsibility for looked after children and young people where the education authority has a statutory obligation as a “Corporate Parent” in terms of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.
5.3 Medical and dental appointments
Parents and children and young people should continue to be encouraged to arrange such appointments, whenever possible, outside of school hours. On occasion, it may be necessary to attend medical, dental and other health related appointments such as hospital appointments during school hours, which schools should record within a Medical and Dental category in ‘authorised absence’.
In remote areas, keeping health appointments may require significant travel and cause more disruption to school attendance. Education authorities should use their partnership with child health services to ensure that there is a flexible approach to appointments to avoid disruption for children and young people during critical times, such as during exam periods. In some circumstances, education authorities and schools may arrange for medical and dental services to be provided on site within schools.
5.4 Diverse school communities
Some groups of children and young people may require authorised absence because of their religious or cultural practices or family’s mobility:
- children and young people of all faiths may take authorised absence to enable them to participate in religious observance
- in some cultures, family weddings or funerals are major events which may require children or young people to travel (e.g. overseas) or participate in extended preparations. If this lasts for more than four weeks the school would normally have the right to remove the child or young person from the roll in order not to be penalised in terms of its attendance record. However, in these circumstances, children or young people should be considered as “Extended leave with parental consent”, which allows them to remain on the school register ready for their return, but without the school being penalised.
- some families may travel as part of their tradition, for family connections or work commitments. Further information on supporting inclusive educational approaches for children and young people from travelling cultures, including culturally sensitive approaches to managing attendance, is available in the Scottish Government guidance ‘Improving educational outcomes for children and young people from travelling cultures’. Children and young people can be registered on SEEMIS with two schools at the same time. For example, some families arrange for their children to enrol in a ‘base school’ (school they attend for most of the year) for part of the year and take authorised ‘Extended Leave with Parental Consent’ for periods of travel. The children may temporarily enrol in other schools as they travel, and these schools provide attendance and other data to the ‘base school’, to ensure completeness of data.
5.5 Exclusion from school
Exclusion from school is recorded as a separate category in attendance statistics to enable education authorities and the Scottish Government to monitor the number of days lost to exclusion in schools, and to monitor the extent of provision made for learning for excluded pupils.
A means by which schools, learning establishments and education authorities can seek to reduce exclusion is by establishing a whole school ethos of prevention, early intervention and support against a background which promotes positive relationships, learning and behaviour.
Exclusion from school should only be used as a last resort, and should be a proportionate response where there is no alternative. Exclusion should never be used as a punitive measure to respond to unauthorised absence. It is important that the views of the child or young person and their parents are taken into account. Schools should carefully consider all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the incidents leading to the exclusion, as well as the wellbeing and safety of the whole school community. The time during and after any exclusion period should be used constructively to resolve the situation and ensure that positive and appropriate support is in place.
Further information on school exclusion policy can be found in Included, Engaged and Involved Part 2: A Positive Approach to Preventing and Managing Exclusions
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