There is a strong connection between regular attendance at school and the achievement of pupils. South Ayrshire Council places a high value on attendance at school to ensure all children and young people are able to achieve their full potential. Attending school and taking part in learning – wherever learning takes place – is fundamental to making sure that children and young people become successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.

It is the legal duty of every parent or guardian under The Education (Scotland) Act 1980, (Section 30) to provide efficient education for their child who is of school age. Parents/guardians failing in the above duty make themselves liable to prosecution in terms of Section 43 of The Education (Scotland) Act 1980. Parents/guardians who fail to meet this duty can face a fine of up to £1000, or imprisonment, or both.

Once you enrol your child at a local education authority school the law says the child must attend unless the parent has permission from the education authority to withdraw the child from school.

Definition of attendance

The following definitions are taken from The Scottish Government publication “Included, Engaged and Involved, published in December 2007:

Attendance is defined as participation in a programme of educational activities arranged and agreed by the school. In addition to actual attendance within the school premises, it includes:

  • Going to college or to another unit outside the school
  • Visits to outdoor centres; this could be for the day or for residential visits
  • Interviews and visits to do with college or careers events
  • Sports, musical or drama activities organised by the school in school hours
  • Study leave for pupils participating in national exams, if arranged by the school during the period of the national examination 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
  • Work experience

Authorised absence

When your child is absent from school this can be recorded by the school as either authorised or unauthorised. 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, this is recorded as an authorised absence.

Absence is authorised in the following circumstances:

  • Your child is ill
  • Your child is attending a doctor or hospital appointment
  • A meeting about a Children’s Hearing or court, or attending a Children’s Hearing, care review or court
  • Participation in debates, sports, musical or drama activities as long as this is agreed in advance by the school
  • Attending a religious ceremony or a wedding or funeral of someone very close to them
  • Someone close to your child has died
  • There is a crisis or serious difficulty at home or in your family
  • You are a Gypsy/Traveller family and your child’s school is aware of your plans to travel and return
  • Your family is returning to a country of origin for cultural reasons or to care for a relative
  • The school transport your child uses is cancelled due to bad weather, breakdown, etc.

Unauthorised Absence

Schools will not authorise absences in the following circumstances:

  • Any unexplained absence unless you later provide a satisfactory explanation
  • Most family holidays, unless there are exceptional circumstances
  • Where the school does not agree there is a satisfactory reason for absence even if you have provided an explanation
  • Truancy, with or without your knowledge
  • During disputes, such as relating to the return of a pupil after an exclusion
  • Long-term exceptional domestic circumstances where support has been provided.

What to do if your child can’t attend school

You need to inform the school by phone, email, or 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 the school will 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.

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. You need to keep your child’s school up to date with your contact details. Where you are not available, or do not respond to the text message or phone call, the emergency contacts will be used. For vulnerable children, where the emergency contacts are not available, other agencies, such as Social Work, will be contacted.

Family holidays during term-time

Schools will not normally give you permission to take your child 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.

Only in exceptional and very limited circumstances will the school authorise a family holiday during term time. Such circumstances may include:

  • A family holiday judged to be important to the well-being and cohesion of the family following serious or terminal illness, bereavement or other traumatic events; and
  • Where a parent’s employment is of a nature where school holiday leave cannot be accommodated (e.g. armed services).

Parents must speak to the school prior to making arrangements or taking any absence. No school work will be provided for the period of absence although some schools may consider giving you information about what will be covered during the absence.

Action to deal with persistent non-attendance

If your child does not attend school regularly without a satisfactory explanation being provided, the school will take a staged approach to try to remedy the situation. The stages are:

Stage 1
You are informed by letter if your child’s unauthorised absence falls below 90%.

Stage 2
If there is no improvement within 2 weeks a further letter will be sent.

Stage 3
If there is no improvement within a week after this you will be invited to attend a meeting with senior school staff to establish the reasons for the continuing low attendance and how to address these.

Stage 4
If there is no improvement within 2 weeks after this the case will be referred to the Local Attendance Council. The school and Local Attendance Council will jointly monitor your child’s attendance for up to 4 weeks.

Stage 5
If there is no improvement after the joint monitoring period the Local Attendance Council may request that an Attendance Order is issued.

Attendance Orders

An Attendance Order is an Order in writing requiring you to ensure that your child attends the school named in the Order. The education authority will serve a copy of the Attendance Order on you and you must comply with this by ensuring that your child attends regularly.

Once an Attendance Order is made it will continue so long as your child is of school age. When an Attendance Order is in force the education authority may substitute the name of another school, by telling you we plan to do this. If the child moves house the authority may tell you that we plan to change the name of a school your child must attend. You may object to this change within fourteen days of being given notice of the education authority’s intention.

If you breach an Attendance Order you may face a fine of £1,000 or a term in prison or both. You will be in breach of an Attendance Order if your child fails to attend school without a reasonable excuse.

An attendance order can be revoked provided the request is approved by the Director of Educational Services.

Referrals to the Children’s Reporter

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 a voluntary agency. 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.

When the Reporter gets a referral, she/he must make an initial investigation before deciding what action, if any, is necessary. The Reporter decides on the next step.

She or he might decide:

  • That no further action is required. The Reporter will write to you to tell you 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 special 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.