Young girl smiling in class Close up head shot of boy in school Girl holding hand up, with teacher at white board

School Attendance

It is your legal duty as parents / guardians to ensure the regular and punctual attendance of your child at school.
The time you have to prepare your child for his or her future is very important. Each year, there are just 190 statutory school days. If your child were to miss 1 day a week for their whole time at school, they would miss the equivalent of 2 years’ school! That would be like not starting school until you were 7 or leaving at 14.
Frequent lateness can also add up, and can mean your child missing vital work, which then has to be caught up. It also disrupts lessons and can earn your child a reputation that it would be better if they did not have. The law deals with lateness and non-attendance in exactly the same way.
Your child’s education is more vital today than it has ever been in previous generations. Please help your child to use this opportunity to the full!

When should my child start school?


When can my child leave school?

What is the law about school attendance?

Why is school attendance important?

What can you do to help your child?

When can your child be absent from school?

Can I take my child on holiday during term time?

What may happen if your child does not attend regularly?


When should my child start school?
In Northern Ireland children normally start school in the September of the school year after their 4th birthday. This means children who have their 4th birthday on or between 1 September 2003 and 1 July 2004 can join a P1 class at the beginning of September.

Those children whose birthday falls in the summer months i.e. 2 July to 31 August do not start school until the following September. This means that a child who turns 4 on the 2 July 2004 to 31 August 2004 does not start school until September 2005.

When can my child leave school?
If your child is 16 on or before the 1 July he/she may leave on 30 June of that year. If your child is 16 after 1 July he/she must remain at school until 30 June of the next school year.


What is the law about school attendance?
Parents and the education and library boards have clear duties and responsibilities:

Parental Duty

The duty of a parent, in relation to the education of their children, is found in the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 and says:

“The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him/her to receive efficient full time education suitable to his/her age ability and aptitude, and to any special educational needs he/she may have, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.”

Duty of the ELB

Education and Library Boards through their Education Welfare Service have a legal responsibility to make sure that parents and carers meet their own responsibility towards their children’s education. If they do not, the Education and Library Board is duty bound to use the legal processes of Court action, to uphold a parent's duty to make sure that the young people in their care receive an education.

Why is school attendance important?


  • It is required by law.

  • Children need to attend school regularly to keep up with their work and promote social development.

  • A good education will give your child the best possible start in life and enable him or her to make the best of the opportunities available.

  • Children need to develop good habits in readiness for later life.

  • Employers of school leavers will take into account the young person’s school attendance and punctuality record before making a job offer.

  • Young people who are away from school without good reason are at risk of becoming victims of crime or abuse.

What can you do to help your child?

  • Make sure your child goes to school regularly, arrives there on time, and keeps to the school rules. Start good habits at an early age while your child is at Primary School.

  • If your child starts avoiding school, contact the school straightaway and work with them to sort things out.

  • If your child is ill, contact the school on the first day of absence. Staff will be concerned if they don’t hear from you.

  • If your child is ever off school, tell them why. Make sure you follow the arrangements made by the school for this.

  • If you want your child to miss school, for example for a religious festival or some other special occasion, seek the school’s agreement well in advance and give full details.

  • Don’t expect the school to agree to shopping trips during school hours – even if it’s for a school uniform!

  • Take a full interest in your child’s school work.

  • Support school staff in their efforts to control difficult or challenging behaviour. 

Make sure your child goes to school regularly, arrives there on time, and keeps to the school rules. Start good habits at an early age while your child is at Primary School.


When can children be absent from school?

When he or she


  • is ill.

  • has an unavoidable medical or dental appointment.

  • is taking part in a religious event.

  • has an exceptional family circumstance, e.g. wedding or a funeral


Some unacceptable reasons for absence.


  • Birthdays.

  • Visiting relatives.

  • Shopping.

  • Hair appointment.

  • Looking after other members of the family. 


Contacting the School


  • If your child has to be away from school you should notify the school as soon as possible, preferably on the first day of absence.

  • If you know in advance of the absence you should ask permission from the school giving as much notice as possible and full details.

Can I take my child on holiday during term time?

Absence from school should be avoided wherever possible.

It causes disruption to your child’s education and may effect their relationships within school.

If you plan a holiday during term-time your child will miss part of their education and may miss important tests or exams.

You should discuss this with the principal of your child’s school as only the school can authorize such an absence.

Do not expect your child’s school to authorize the absence as they may have a policy that states all term-time holidays are counted as absences.

What may happen if your child does not attend regularly?
The law states that parents are responsible for ensuring their children’s regular and punctual attendance at school.

Each parent could be fined up to £1000 for each child who fails to attend regularly.
The Local Education and Library Board also has the option of applying for an Education Supervision Order in respect of your child.

It is important that you co-operate with the school and the Education Welfare Officer in order to resolve any difficulties early before any legal action becomes necessary.

(Legally no child has to be in school before the beginning of the September following their 4th birthday, but many families welcome their child starting nursery)

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