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Prosecution for non-attendance

The Education Act 1996 states that parents and carers must make sure their children receive an appropriate education by attending school regularly.

If a parent or carer fails to ensure this, they are guilty of an offence and can be prosecuted. Proceedings will take place in a Magistrates Court.

Prosecution is a serious step and parents will be given the opportunity to talk to the school and the council’s Education Welfare Service as well as make efforts to improve their child’s attendance before prosecution is considered.

Defences against prosecution

Parents have the right to challenge the attendance certificate or grounds for prosecution for the following reasons:

  • The Headteacher authorised the absence
  • With leave (approved holiday)
  • Sickness or unavoidable cause
  • Religious observance
  • The school is beyond the statutory limits for walking and no transport is available. (The limits are two miles for children under eight and three miles for pupils aged eight and over.)

Parents must prove one or more of these reasons apply if they wish to challenge their child’s non-attendance on the register.

Magistrate Court proceedings

If you are requested to attend court you will be sent a summons stating the time, date and place. You should receive copies of the prosecution evidence and will be asked if you intend to plead guilty or not guilty.

It is in your interest to obtain legal advice – a list of solicitors is available at the Citizens Advice Bureau. On the day of the hearing you should arrive on time and report to the court's reception. If you have difficulties attending or any other questions regarding the proceedings, contact the court.


If you have pleaded or been found guilty of the offence of which you have been summoned, the magistrates have the power to impose the following penalties:

  • a fine up to £2,500
  • Imprisonment for a term (no longer than 3 months)
  • Any court costs

Education Supervision Order (ES0)

The magistrates can request our Education Welfare Service to consider applying for an ESO. This can be instead of a prosecution or in addition to it.

ESOs allow the service to give parents instructions on securing a proper education for their child. Parents are consulted before an order is applied and the court will agree an ESO in the best interests of the child.

The first order is for one year. Extensions can be requested which may be for up to three years at a time and these extensions are possible until the child leaves school. If a parent does not comply, they can be taken back to court and fined. Cases can also be referred to Social Services to make investigations and consider further proceedings.

School Attendance Orders

Parents who refuse to register a child at a suitable school without good reason may receive a School Attendance Order from us.

This order names an appropriate school and requires you to enrol your child at this school.

Failure to comply with the order can result in a court summons and prosecution.