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Holidays in term time

Why regular attendance is vital

Regular attendance is important, not just because the law requires it, but also because it is the best way of ensuring your child makes the most of the educational opportunities available to them.

Any absence from school disrupts their learning. Children of school age who are on roll at a school must, by law, attend that school regularly and punctually.

What the law says about leave of absence

Head teachers should not authorise a pupil's leave of absence from school unless they consider that there are exceptional circumstances. The regulations make it clear that you don't have an automatic right to take your child out of school for a holiday. Indeed, in most cases head teachers will decide not to authorise this kind of absence.

Requests for leave of absence

Your child's school will provide you with an absence request form which you should complete and return at least 14 days before the proposed absence. The head teacher will make a decision about whether there are exceptional circumstances, and will inform you of the decision in writing. If it is considered:

  • there are exceptional circumstances, the absence will be authorised
  • there are not exceptional circumstances, the absence will not be authorised. Where the head teacher decides not to authorise an absence, we can't override the decision. Therefore, any queries in relation to why an application for a leave of absence has not been authorised must be referred to the head teacher, not to the council.

What is meant by 'exceptional circumstances'

The Department for Education (DfE) has not specifically defined 'exceptional circumstances', so the head teacher makes a decision based on the information provided by the parent as to whether there are exceptional circumstances.

Unauthorised leave of absence

If your request has not been authorised, or you haven't submitted a request, the Head Teacher may decide to refer to the council to request a Penalty Notice be issued against you as the parent(s). Under education law (Education Act 1996 s576) a parent is defined as:

  • all natural parents, whether they are married or not; or
  • any person who, although not a natural parent, has responsibility for the care of a child.

This means that a person who lives with and looks after the child, whatever their relationship to the child, is considered to be a parent in education law. If there is more than one parent (under this definition) each is responsible for the child's attendance and any action by the council will affect each parent individually.

Penalty notice

Following a request from school, we may issue a penalty notice to each parent of a child in accordance with our code of conduct. If there is more than one child, each parent will receive a penalty notice for each child of statutory school age who has had an unauthorised leave of absence.

There is no limit on the number of times you can be issued with a penalty notice for unauthorised leave of absence. The penalty notice is a fine of £120 per parent (for each child) which must be paid within 28 days. The amount of the fine is reduced to £60 if the payment is made within 21 days.

Details about how payment can be made are included with the penalty notice. However, payment in part or by instalment is not an option, and there is no statutory right of appeal once a notice has been issued. If the penalty notice is not paid, you may be prosecuted in the Magistrates Court for the original offence of failing to ensure your child's regular school attendance. This can result in a penalty of up to £2,500 and/or a community order and a criminal conviction.

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Changes to school attendance penalty notices from 19 August 2024

There are important changes to school attendance penalty notices (DfE) which will come into effect from 19 August 2024. This will affect the rules around penalty notices issued to parents for their child's poor school attendance, including holidays taken during term time.

Issuing of a penalty notice

There is a new national threshold of 10 unauthorised sessions, within a rolling 10 school week.

Increase in penalty notice amount

Previous fineIf paid within 21 daysNew fineIf paid within 21 days

Escalation in cases of repeat offences

Any second penalty notice issued to the same parent for the same child within a rolling 3 year period, will be charged at the higher rate of £160 with no option for this second offence to be discharged at the lower rate of £80.

Limited number of penalty notices per parent

A national limit of 2 penalty notices can be issued to a parent for the same child within a rolling 3-year period. At the 3rd (or subsequent) offence(s) another tool, such as prosecution, will be considered.

For more information please visit the website (opens new window).

More information

For more information, contact your child's school or our Legal Intervention Team:

Education Support Service
Legal Intervention Team
Civic Centre
Floor 2