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School attendance and absence

Regular school attendance is an important part of giving your child the best possible start in life. Talking to your child and their teachers could help to solve any difficulties you have in getting your child to go to school - and there are other forms of support available if you still have problems.

Regular school attendance - why it's so important

Going to school regularly is important for your child's future. For example, children who miss school frequently can fall behind with their work and do less well in exams.

Good attendance shows potential employers that your child is reliable. Research suggests that children who attend school regularly could also be at less risk of getting involved in antisocial behaviour or crime.

All schools are required to record details of pupils’ attendance and absence at school. They do so at the beginning of morning and afternoon sessions. If your child is absent, it is usually required that you inform the school the reason for the absence.

The school will record the absence under a particular category preset by the Department of Education (DE). This data is then available to the Education Welfare Service (EWS) for each pupil. DE also receives annually the overall data for each school.  

By law, all children of compulsory school age (normally four to 16) must receive a suitable full-time education. For most parents, this means registering their child at a school - though some choose to make other arrangements to provide a suitable, full-time education.

Once your child is registered at a school, you are legally responsible for making sure they attend regularly.  If your child fails to do so, you risk getting a fine (each parent could be fined up to £1,000 for each child) or being prosecuted.

Preventing your child from missing school: what you can do

You can help prevent your child skipping school by:

  • making sure they understand the importance of good attendance and punctuality
  • taking an interest in their education - ask about school work and encourage them to get involved in school activities
  • discussing any problems they may have at school – inform their teacher or Principal about anything serious
  • not letting them take time off school for minor ailments - particularly those which would not prevent you from going to work

Arranging appointments and outings after school hours, at weekends or during school holidays will help to prevent disruption to your child's education and to the school. Under normal circumstances you should not expect the school to agree to your child going on holiday during term time.

Support on school attendance

There are many different issues which can affect school attendance.

Examples include problems with:  

  • bullying
  • housing or care arrangements
  • transport to and from school
  • work and money

If your child starts missing school, there may a problem you are not aware of. Ask your child first, then approach their teacher or form tutor.

Support from the school

Your child’s school is the first place to go to discuss any attendance problems. The school should try to agree a plan with you to improve your child’s attendance.

A small number of schools are working with their local education and library board (ELB) to undertake the ‘Primary Attendance Matters’ programme which aims to show primary aged pupils the benefits of school and to reward them for good attendance.

If your child’s attendance gives the school reason for concern (the trigger point for this is normally when attendance drops below 85 per cent) they will refer your child to the Education Welfare Service (EWS) in the ELB.

Support from your education and library board

Your local ELB can also help if you are struggling to ensure that your child goes to schools.

Potential forms of support include:  

  • home tuition for children with long term and recurring illnesses, so they do not fall too far behind
  • support to help reduce the burden on children where families are in difficulty (for example, if a child is spending a lot of time caring for someone)
  • working with families and schools to overcome bullying and other serious problems

The EWS in the ELB’s is a specialist education support service which helps young people of a compulsory school age and their families to get the best out of the education system.

The EWS can offer advice and support to help you and your child to have good attendance at school.