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Can I Take My Child Out of School?

For thousands of families with school-age children, 2020 and 2021 have been challenging years.  Not only have children had to endure weeks of homeschooling during COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, but parents have also been quite restricted as to where they can take children for days out, holidays, and family events.  It is understandable, therefore, that some parents may wish to take their children on holiday during school term time when it is more affordable, and space is available in accommodation.  But what exactly does the law have to say about taking children out of school during term time?

22 December 2021
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Can I take my child out of school during term time?

It may be possible to take your child out of school if either they are too unwell to attend or you have made prior arrangements with the school, but only in exceptional circumstances.

The guidance issued by the Government on taking children out of school during term time states, “You have to get permission from the headteacher if you want to take your child out of school during term time”.  This is only possible where the parent with whom the child normally lives makes an application to the headteacher in advance.  It is then at the discretion of the headteacher how much time they allow to be taken off or if permission should be given at all.

According to the Education Act 1996, a parent can include:

  • A natural parent, whether they are married or not, or;
  • A person with parental responsibility for a child or young person whether through a child arrangement order or special guardianship order or;
  • Any person who has care of a child or young person, that is, lives with and looks after the child.

In 2013, the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) (Amendments) Regulations brought in legal changes to the Registration Regulations 2006 to make it clear that schools should not agree to children taking leave from school (referred to as a leave of absence) unless it can be shown there are “exceptional circumstances”.  There is no strict definition of what is meant by exceptional circumstances, and such requests are assessed by the headteacher on a case by case basis.  Exceptional circumstances will typically include:

  •  An urgent family situation 
  • The death of a family member
  • The diagnosis of a terminal illness of a family member
  • Where a family member serves in the armed forces

If a parent wishes to take their child out of school during term time to go on holiday, it is unlikely to be approved.  A possible exception to this is where one of the parents is serving in the military and can only take leave during their child’s school term time.

Where permission is granted, the school is supposed to reply in writing to the parent confirming the decision with an agreed return date.  It is important to comply with this date as under the Registration Regulations 2006, schools can decide to remove pupils from their roll if they have not returned by the agreed return date.  Schools will typically only do so once they have made reasonable enquiries as to why the child has not returned on time.

The rules on taking children out of school differ between state education and private schools and depending on which part of the UK you reside in.  In England and Wales, it is the statutory duty of individual Local Authorities (LAs) to outline the responsibilities of parents when it comes to school attendance, and where necessary, take action (including potential legal action) to improve attendance where it falls below a certain standard.  

What can a Local Authority do if a child is taken out of school without permission?

Where a headteacher has concerns about the attendance of a pupil, including unauthorised or prolonged absences of more than ten days, they will then inform the Local Authority and may recommend a sanction.  Depending on the severity, action may include:

  • Parenting contracts – A parenting contract is a formal written contract/agreement between the parents and the LA or school governing body.  Within the contract, the parent agrees to meet the specified requirements, and the LA agree to provide support to the parent in doing so. A parenting contract is not a penalty; rather, it is a way of helping to improve the attendance of a child.  
  • Fixed penalty notice (typically £60 or £120) – this cannot be appealed and can lead to prosecution if not paid.
  • School Attendance Orders (SAOs) – before an SAO is issued, the LA will serve notice on parents where their child is no longer receiving a suitable education by regular attendance at school (or otherwise).  If the parent cannot provide evidence the child is receiving a suitable education within 15 days, an SAO will be issued requiring the child to attend school. If this is not complied with, court action may follow. In practice, SAOs are rarely issued, and matters are typically dealt with before this stage is reached.

Final words

In the majority of cases where a parent wishes to take their child out of school, this will be a one-off request and not be part of a longer-term trend of non-attendance.  The best advice is to speak to your child’s headteacher directly to explain the situation and follow this up in writing.  Given the discretion held by headteachers, if there is a compelling reason to take your child out of school during term time, they are more likely to agree to your request. It is essential, though, that you do not take your child out of school if permission is not given or you have not submitted a request.  If you are facing any form of action from your LA due to your child’s lack of attendance at school, speak to a specialist in Education law who will be able to explain your rights, options and recommend the best way to proceed.

Guillaumes LLP Solicitors is a full-service law firm based in Weybridge, Surrey.  We have a highly experienced education law team who can assist you with all matters relating to court action relating to child absence and School Attendance Orders (SAOs).  To make an appointment, please call us on 01932 840 111.