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Attendance and children missing education


The general rules on school attendance include:

  • it is a parents’ duty to send their child to school regularly if they are of compulsory school age
  • it is schools’ responsibility to record attendance and follow up absence
  • the local authority is able to resume the use of legal sanctions, including penalty notices and processes that may lead to prosecution in court for persistent absence.

Penalty Notices for School Non-Attendance

A penalty notice is a fine issued to parents or carers for their child's unauthorised absence from school. In Sefton, penalty notices are most often used for unauthorised absence/holidays in term time.

Penalty notices are sent through the post. The penalty notice contains information explaining how and where to pay.

Taking Children out of School During Term Time

The law was changed in 2013 and made it clear that head teachers may not grant leave of absence during term time unless there are exceptional circumstances.

You should not take your children out of school during term time unless you are granted authorised leave of absence by the head teacher. If you do take your child out of school without the leave of absence being authorised, the head teacher may direct the Council to take measures to issue either a penalty notice or prosecute you as parents.

Responsibility for Paying the Penalty Notice 

The parent/carer named on the letter and on the invoice, is responsible for paying the penalty notice. If penalty notices have been issued to two parents at the same address, each individual parent is responsible for paying their own penalty notice. Penalty notices are issued to each individual parent/carer of each individual child separately.

Under Section 576 of the Education Act 1996 a parent is defined as:

  • All natural parents, whether they are married or not
  • Any person who, although not a natural parent, has parental responsibility for a child or young person
  • And any person who, although not a natural parent, has care of a child or young person. Having care of a child or young person means that a person with whom the child lives and who looks after the child, is considered to be a parent in education law.

Penalty Notice Costs 

The penalty notice is for £60, per parent, per child, which rises to £120 if you don't pay within 21 days. If you don't pay the fine after 28 days you may be prosecuted for the offence of failing to ensure your child's regular attendance at school.

You must pay the whole of the amount owing in one payment - you cannot pay in instalments and you cannot pay part of the penalty notice.

Withdrawal of a Penalty Notice

A penalty notice can only be withdrawn if it is shown that it should not have been issued to you or has not been issued to you in accordance with the local Code of Conduct.

If you believe that a penalty notice has been wrongly issued to you as a result of a leave of absence, you should raise this with the school in the first instance.

If a penalty notice is not withdrawn and you do not pay it, you will be liable to prosecution for the offence that your child has failed to attend school regularly.


There is no statutory right of appeal once a Penalty Notice has been issued.

Click here to download the Penalty Notice Code of Conduct


Children Missing Education

Sefton Council recognise that poor school attendance can be both a cause and a symptom of more complex problems in the lives of children and young people. Where this is believed to be the case, individual school staff  and targeted services will work with the family to understand the barriers to accessing education and offer support to overcome them.

However, in some cases the child and family may need support from a number of different agencies to meet their needs, and this support can be co-ordinated through an Early Help assessment.

Sefton offers schools additional attendance support through traded services. Information about this is available through Traded Services.

In Sefton, we strive to successfully return children to school and uphold the rights of children to access their education. Where additional needs or barriers have been identified, Sefton will always offer advice on support, and will only consider pursuing legal action as a last resort. However, statutory action can and will be taken against parents where necessary, and there is an expectation from government that we will use the legislation available to pursue this.

Download the full guidance

Children with a Social Worker

From September 2021, the Local Authority will extend the role of the Virtual School Head to promote the educational outcomes of the cohort of children with a social worker.

The Virtual School Head will take a strategic leadership role for this cohort of children and work with early years settings, schools, colleges and social care leaders to create a culture of high aspirations that helps all children with social workers to reach their full potential.

In Sefton, part of our planning to improve outcomes for children with a social worker is being committed to improving their attendance and reducing persistent absence.

Due to the success of our first day response initiative in improving the attendance of children with a social worker, we have made the decision to continue with the first day response model of practice as we feel it will support the pandemic recovery planning and promote good educational outcomes for this cohort of children.

Click here to view the First Day Response Policy.

Unregistered Schools and Out of School Settings

Over recent years across the UK, there has been a rise in the number of institutions operating as schools which should be registered.  Operating an unregistered school is a criminal offence and Sefton Council is working together with the DfE, Ofsted and other organisations to help ensure children receive a suitable education in the correct environment.

What makes a school unregistered?

A school must be registered with Ofsted if it offers full–time education and:

  • Has five or more pupils of compulsory school age
  • Is independent
  • Has one or more pupils with an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP), previously known as a statement of special educational needs
  • Has one or more pupils who are looked after (within the meaning of section 22 of the Children Act 1989).

If a setting is operating as a school and is not registered as a school it is illegal and children may be at risk.

What is the risk of attending an unregistered school?

Schools that are unregistered do not have to comply with the same rules and regulations that registered schools do. These rules and regulations exist to keep children safe, offer the best learning environment possible and keep educational standards as high as possible. 

Parents and guardians who send children to unregistered schools may:

  • Be putting children at risk of harm
  • Be denying them a suitable education
  • Be limiting their life chances.

How is the issue of unregistered schools being tackled?

Ofsted has a dedicated team of inspectors to identify, investigate and collect evidence about potential unregistered independent schools. Ofsted has the power to inspect suspected unregistered schools.

Between January 2016 and 31 March 2020, Ofsted’s Unregistered Schools team investigated 694 settings suspected of operating as an unregistered school. 345 inspections took place and 95 warning notices were issued. This led to 79 settings either being closed or to cease operating illegally. Some people found to be running an unregistered school have been prosecuted.

How can I help?

If you are aware of an unregistered school or believe there is a possibility a setting may be operating as a school, then please contact:

We can then ensure that the necessary checks are undertaken to establish whether the setting is operating in a way that requires it to register as a school.

If your query is urgent, please contact the Tracy McKeating on 0151 934 3359. 

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Last Updated on Friday, January 26, 2024

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