Conversations about attendance often pop up in my feed.

  • School have just sent me a letter moaning about his attendance when they’re the ones that excluded him.
  • I’ve just been threatened with a fine even though they know I can’t get her to school (school refusal).
  • I want to take my child out of school and on holiday whilst it’s quiet, but the Head has said no.

They cause many arguments!  Let’s explore the legislation around attendance first.

Schools must take an attendance register at the start of the first session of each school day and once during the second session.  On each occasion hey have to record whether they child is

  • Present
  • Attending an approved educational activity
  • Absent
  • Unable to attend (due to exceptional circumstance – eg. A snow day!)

The school is expected to follow up any absences to find out the reason, ensure proper safeguarding action is taken, identify whether the absence is approved or not and identify the correct code to use in their management system.

For once, the codes used are universal across all schools!  So, if you ever have to query attendance, get a copy of your child’s print and have a look.





Present in school for the morning session



Present in school for the afternoon session



Late arrival before the register closed

School might open at 08:45 and the teacher takes the register, but the marks are not submitted/sent to the office/system until a slightly later time.  It is usually within 10-15 minutes of the start time.


Off-site educational activity.  For example where a student attends an alternative provision or college for periods of the week.



Dual registration (and expected to be present at the other site). 

This code is used in one school and the attendance/absence code would be used at the other school.



For an educational placement or employment


Supervised sporting activity – where school have sent an adult to supervise the event



Educational visit – organized by the school

Or a strictly educational trip arranged by an organization approved by the school


Work experience

Can only be used in Y10 and Y11.  Absence from the placement will be amended on the register


Absence authorised by school



Excluded but no alternative provision in place



Holiday authorized by school

Applications must be made in advance and will only be authorised in exceptional circumstances.  The Head teacher an determine the number of days it will be authorized for and is entirely at their discretion.



Illness should be authorised unless the school believes otherwise.  Medical evidence can be in the form of a prescription or appointment card and does not have to be a doctors note.


Medical or Dental appointment

Appointments should be made outside of school time, where unavoidable only the time for getting to/from and attending the appointment is authorised.


Religious observance

The date must be the one specifically set aside in the religious calendar.


Study leave

Used sparingly for Y11 and requires the school to be available for those students who wish to come in.


Gypsy, Roma, Traveller absence

A wonderfully confusing code!  Where a child belongs to a travelling family who have a ‘base’ and an enrolled school but move about for occupational purposes the child’s absence can be coded as T when they are travelling with the family and not attending education elsewhere.  For example; a travelling circus.

Where they are ‘settled’ travelers the normal attendance rules apply.


Holiday not authorised by school or in excess of the agreed period

This is an unauthorised absence.  Schools cannot give retrospective approval to holidays.


Reason not yet provided

This is a temporary code and after a reasonable period of time if a reason is not provided then it should be changed to O.


Unauthorised absence

An absence where no justifiable reason has been given.


Arrived in school after registration closed

So, where a child is more than 15 minutes late for school (time will depend on the school policy) they will be marked as an unauthorised absence for that session, even though they have arrived.


Not required in school

Used for children of non-compulsory age who are not expected to attend


Unable to attend due to exceptional circumstances

Including the school being closed, transport provided by the school is unavailable, a local/national travel issue.
This code is also used for children in custody who are not being educated whilst detained.


Pupil not on the admissions register

Usually seen when a child joins part way through a school year and the previous dates need to be accounted for.


Planned whole/part school closure

Used for weekends, school holidays and INSET days and if the school is closed for polling.


The gold codes are absences (an absence is an absence whether or not it is authorised.)

Blue codes are classed as attendance.

And green codes are deducted from the year (365) when calculating the total number of days your child should be in school in order to calculate their percentage attendance.


As a general rule, part-time timetables are not allowed.  However, in exceptional circumstances they may be appropriate for a temporary period.  It is not a long-term solution and must be reviewed regularly with a view to full-time integration as soon as possible

In agreeing to a part-time timetable, the school is agreeing to the pupil being absent from school and therefore must mark is as an authorised absence.

However, it will still flag up as an absence and affect overall attendance percentages.


Over the course of an academic year the percentage value of each session decreases.  For a full year each session is worth about 0.26%.  So, 2 full days absence in a year will bring attendance down to 98.96%.

However, schools are required to monitor attendance and put measures in place to ensure it doesn’t fall further.  This means that they often do their calculations at the end of a half term.  In the autumn term (September to October) there are usually around 60 sessions.  Each session is worth about 1.67%.  So, 2 full days absence in that first half term will bring attendance down to 93.32%

It’s easy to see how a couple of days off, lates, medical appointments or exclusions can start affecting that overall percentage.


Now, most of the groups I belong to have children with SEN.  By their very nature they tend to have absences for a variety of reasons.  Unfortunately, schools are judged on the attendance of their SEN cohort.  Where there is a difference between the SEN group and the rest of the school then measures have to be put in place.  And the first call is to parents.  Since 2016, children whose attendance slips below 90% are classed as persistent absentees.  Just one week off in the autumn term can keep the absence below 90% until half term 5 even if the child then attends every day.

As schools are required to report on the figures and to demonstrate what they are doing to reduce absences and persistent absenteeism it makes sense that they will be contacting you with a reminder (not matter how annoying and insulting they may feel!)

As a little aside, my second son moved to a new school after Christmas.  At the end of the second week he was injured and broke his collarbone.  As the school is a 6-mile bike ride from our house, he was unable to get there and back.  After a week, we managed to arrange alternative transport for him with the school.  Unfortunately, he gets to school just after 9am and they start at 8:30am.  And in order to get home, he has to miss last lesson.  Not only this but the dreaded Norovirus struck in week 5 rendering him unable to attend.  Of his 6 weeks (60 sessions) he has managed 29.  Although he has attended 40.  Why?  Because he is late after the registration closes in the morning, so does not get that mark, was absent for one week with the injury (which although authorised is still an absence) and then had a further week off with the virus.  Therefore, his attendance is just below 50% (although he has attended 67% of school).  Fortunately, the school are not chasing me for his attendance for various reasons (not least the fact they know I’ll growl at them!) and his normal attendance (on his previous records) is 100%.  He does not have the luxury of attendance in the autumn term to bolster his figure so by the end of the academic year he will be classed as a persistent absentee and his final maximum percentage is not likely to exceed 83% (assuming full attendance.)

So, to the questions seen on Facebook!

  • School have just sent me a letter moaning about his attendance when they’re the ones that excluded him.
    Absence is absence regardless of the reason.  The school has to be seen to address it.
  • I’ve just been threatened with a fine even though they know I can’t get her to school (school refusal).
    Your port of call here is the GP to have your child recorded as too anxious to attend school. That way if fines are proposed you already have a record of a professional advising non-attendance.  It is worthwhile contacting the LA education welfare officer if they have one and explaining the situation rather than waiting until you get a letter. 
  • I want to take my child out of school and on holiday whilst it’s quiet, but the Head has said no.
    It’s at the discretion of the Head Teacher and whatever their governing body has agreed, and it really does have to be an exceptional circumstance. I’ve seen some parents successfully get around this with a letter from a paediatrician or doctor advising that the normal holiday periods are too traumatic, and some where the parents have been offered respite holiday breaks over which they have no control on the dates.  Where it is granted in one year it should not be assumed that it can happen every year, and if the child already has poor attendance then it is likely to be a ‘no’.


I’ll write about fines for attendance issues in another post!

The DfE guidance (September 2018) on attendance can be found here:


Did you know there are 365 days in a year?  Of those 104 are weekend dates.  Leaving 261 days.

Of those remaining 261 days, children are expected to attend school for 190 of them (staff 195).