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Court procedures (school attendance)

The law on school attendance

The Education Act 1996 states that parents must ensure their children receive appropriate full-time education according to their age, ability, and aptitude. This usually means making sure a child registered at school attends regularly and punctually.

Any person who has the care of a child, or who has parental responsibility, is responsible for ensuring good attendance. Failing to do so can result in a penalty notice being issued, or prosecution.

The legislation: 'If a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at the school, his parent is guilty of an offence' (s.444(1) of the Education Act 1996).

Parents who refuse to register a child at a suitable school without good reason may receive a School Attendance Order from Us (the council). Failing to comply with the Order can result in prosecution.

Prosecution of parents

Prosecution is a serious step. The Education Welfare Service only uses prosecution after discussion with the school and any other relevant person.

The evidence for prosecution is supplied by the school, in the form of an attendance certificate signed by the headteacher. This must be accepted by the Magistrate as a true record of attendance.

The Education Welfare Officer (EWO) attached to the school will also supply evidence for prosecution, including evidence of contact with parents/carers. Parents/carers will have been offered support by the EWO, and the opportunity to work with them to improve their child's attendance. Attendance Case Conference/Review meetings will have been held to give parents/carers the opportunity to explain the child's absences.

The proceedings

We'll say you committed one of two different offences if we decide to prosecute you for failing to make sure your child attends school regularly: Offence S444(1) or Offence S444(1A). The two are similar, but the (1A) offence is more serious, and if you're found guilty, you could go to jail for up to three months.

If we're prosecuting you under Offence S444(1):

You'll be sent a summons via the Single Justice Procedure. It will ask if you intend to plead guilty or not guilty. You must complete it and return it to the Magistrate's Court.

You should also be sent copies of the prosecution evidence, including statements made by the Education Welfare Officer.

You're encouraged to seek legal advice.

If we're prosecuting you under Offence S444(1A):

If you're requested to attend court, you'll be sent a summons saying the time, date, and place of the hearing. You should receive copies of the prosecution evidence, including statements made by the Education Welfare Officer. You'll also be asked if you intend to plead guilty or not guilty. You're encouraged to seek legal advice before the hearing.

On the day of the heading, you should arrive on time and report to the court's reception. If you have any difficulties attending, or any other questions about the proceedings, please contact the Magistrate's Court.

Sentencing

S444(1)

If you've pleaded, or been found, guilty, the Magistrates have the power to impose a fine of up to £1,000 for an offence under S444(1) of the Education Act 1996. Costs may also be awarded against you. Fines and costs are collected at a rate linked to your income.

S444(1A)

If it's proven that you knew your child wasn't attending school regularly and that you failed without reasonable justification to ensure regular attendance, you may be found guilty of an offence under S444(1A). In this case, a fine of up to £2,500 may be imposed and/or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 3 months.

Magistrates sometimes issue a Conditional Discharge which means that your child's attendance will be monitored. If you fail to ensure your child's attendance during the period of a Conditional Discharge, a further case can be taken against you, and you could be fined for both the original and current offence.

The Magistrates may also impose a Parenting Order or Community Order.

Parenting Orders

Section 8 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 gives courts a further option when considering non-school attendance cases.

Magistrates can also impose a Parenting Order as well as other disposals. A Parenting Order would require the parent to attend counselling/guidance sessions for up to three months, and may also require a parent to comply with a specific requirement for up to 12 months, like escorting the child to school each day. Breaching the order can result in further prosecution.

Community Order

A Community Order can be imposed for offences which are serious, but not serious enough to warrant custody. It means your punishment will be carried out in the community instead of prison. A Community Order is made up of one or more 'requirements' which the court can order you to do.