By law, all children of compulsory school age (between 5 and 16 years*) must receive appropriate education. They must either be registered at school, or have alternative arrangements agreed by the Local Authority (LA). Bedford Borough is the Local Authority for Bedfordshire. (*The school leaving date is the last Friday in June).
If you refuse to register your child at a suitable school, without good reason, you may receive an Attendance Order – a legal document requiring the child to register at a school. If your child is registered at a school, you must make sure the child attends that school regularly. If you do not, the Local Authority may take legal proceedings against you.
The Education Welfare Service
The Education Welfare Service (EWS) has a legal responsibility to monitor school attendance on behalf of the Local Authority. When there is concern about a child's attendance, the school will refer this to the Education Welfare Service. Education Welfare Officers (EWOs) will contact the parents and the child to discuss the absences and give help with any difficulties which affect the child's attendance.
You may contact the Education Welfare Service yourself, to obtain advice and support if you are concerned about your child's attendance. Please contact your school for the telephone number of your Education Welfare Officer.
If your child continues to have absences without a reason, which the school can accept and authorise, the EWS will send you a letter, reminding you of your responsibilities and warning that court action may be taken.
If your child's attendance remains poor, a pre-court meeting will usually be held at the school. You and your child will be able to explain at this meeting why your child's attendance has been poor and how you plan to improve it. If attendance becomes acceptable after this meeting, no court action will be taken.
Prosecution of parents
The EWS will only prosecute parents as a last resort and after discussion with the school and other relevant persons.
Evidence for prosecution will be supplied by the school in the form of an attendance certificate signed by the headteacher. The magistrates will accept this as a record of attendance from the school register.
The Education Welfare Officer will write a report for the court on the evidence of visits and telephone calls made to parents.
Defence against prosecution
If you are prosecuted, you have a right to challenge prosecution grounds for the following reasons: The headteacher authorised your child's absence (the headteacher does not need to authorise a note sent by the parents)
Your child was absent due to sickness or unavoidable cause (sickness may be authorised by a medical certificate)
Your child was absent in connection with religious observance
The school is beyond the statutory limits for walking and no transport is available (the limits are 2 miles for children under 8 years and 3 miles for children aged 8 and over)
If you wish to challenge the reasons for non-attendance recorded in the register, you must demonstrate that one or more of these grounds applies.
If you are asked to attend court because of your child's absence from school, you will be sent a summons, stating the date, time and place. The Education Welfare Service will also send you copies of the prosecution evidence. This will include a statement made by the Education Welfare Officer and a certificate of attendance, showing your child's attendance over a specific period.
It may be in your interest to obtain legal advice. Legal aid is not usually granted by the courts.
At the hearing, you will be asked whether you plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, the prosecutor (usually a Senior Education Welfare Officer) will give a summary of the evidence. If you plead not guilty, the case will be adjourned and you will be asked whether you wish to bring witnesses and/or for the Education Welfare Officer to be present in court to give evidence at the next hearing date.
If you have pleaded guilty, or been found guilty, the magistrates have the power to impose a fine of up to 1,000 on each parent. If you plead guilty or have been found guilty of an aggravated offence of failing to ensure your child attends school regularly, they can increase the fine to a maximum of 2,500 and/or up to three months imprisonment for each parent. They may also award costs against you.
Magistrates sometimes sentence parents to a conditional discharge. This means there is no punishment if their child's attendance record is acceptable from that time on but, if those parents are convicted again during the period of the order, they will then be punished for the first offence as well as any further offences.
Some Education Welfare Officers are based in school, whilst others are based at Borough Hall. Please contact your child's school for the telephone number of your Education Welfare Officer.
Alternatively, contact should be made with the Education Welfare Office at Borough Hall.