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0808 808 3555
This information is written with reference to the law in
England, but the general principles apply to all UK nations.
All parents have a duty to make sure their child attends school
regularly. All children are likely to have short absences from
school when they are ill, but some children with a disability or
health condition will have lengthy or repeated periods off
Lengthy absences could be for a variety of reasons, such as
surgery or other treatment, or conditions such as ME/Chronic
Short, repeated absences could be due to having frequent
hospital appointments or because of a condition involving
intermittent crises or flare ups between periods of being
reasonably well. Children with an impaired immune system may have
more absences with coughs and colds than other children. Mental
health conditions can be a reason for both lengthy and recurrent
absences, and some children and young people develop school phobia
It is important to keep closely in touch with the school about
your child's health. You should inform them in advance of any
medical appointments or planned treatment.
If your child is unable to go to school because of a mental
health condition, such as severe anxiety, let the school know in
writing, rather than just keeping them at home. A GP's note may
help in such cases.
Your child might not be well enough to do much work, but
continuity and maintaining a sense of normality is good.
For short absences, your child's school should keep in touch and
send work home if they are off for more than a day or two. Some
schools have a bank of activities available to download from their
website. Others may provide some outreach support, for instance the
child's support assistant coming and doing some work with them at
home. While your child is off, the school should help them keep in
touch with classmates, for example by writing, over the phone,
through photos or class newsletters, over skype, and so on.
If your child is admitted to hospital they will attend the
hospital's school, where they'll have lessons on the ward or in a
separate schoolroom. The hospital education team should liaise with
your child's school.
The local authority must provide alternative education for
children aged five to 16 who are at home sick for more than 15
school days. This should be either full time or as much as the
child can manage. It can be provided in a number of different ways,
Before arranging alternative education, the local authority may
need a referral from your child's school or a letter from a
consultant stating that your child is not well enough to attend
school. The teams coordinating alternative education have different
names in different areas. Common names are 'home and hospital
tuition' or 'EOTAS' (education otherwise than at school).
There is no duty on local authorities to make provision for
children below or above compulsory school age, though some may do.
If your child has an Education, Health
and Care (EHC) plan, you can insist that the plan makes
provision for school absences. In some cases an EHC plan may
specify home-based education.
It is important to have a reintegration plan for when your child
goes back to school. You should discuss this with the school, the
home or hospital tuition service and any medical professionals
involved in the child's care. It may be possible to have a gradual
return, for instance through part-time attendance for a limited
The school will need to look sensitively at what information is
shared and how. Some children may not want to answer questions
about why they were off or for people to make a fuss. They may
overstretch themselves because they do not want to appear
different. It is also important to guard against potential bullying
or isolation, for example if the child has mental health issues or
if they can't do what they used to be able to.
The school could look at providing some extra help for your
child, either one-to-one or in a small group. The school may also
provide additional pastoral support via a learning mentor or an
in-school counselling project. The focus should be on your child's
reintegration into school, not just academic 'catching up'.
If your child is doing public exams, the school should look at
what access arrangements, such as rest breaks, are required. The
school might be able to make special consideration if your child
has missed an exam due to illness.
All schools have a duty to support children with medical needs
and must publish a policy. If your child has an ongoing medical
condition, the school should draw up an individual healthcare plan
for them with the involvement of health professionals, including
the school nurse. This will set out who will give medication, what
to do in an emergency and any other special arrangements that need
to be made, for example access to a quiet rest area or an
accessible toilet. It is important that the plan is shared with all
If your child has a special educational need, the return to
school can be a good time to review their support plan or to ask
for a formal review of the EHC plan. For instance, you can ask if
more or different support is needed. It may also be worth looking
at whether mental health difficulties, such as anxiety or school
phobia, are the result of an unidentified learning difficulty.
No. You cannot be penalised for a genuine medical absence.
Schools must authorise an absence where a child is ill or has a
Government guidance recommends that schools should authorise
medical absences unless they have reasons to doubt that they are
genuine, and that schools should not ask for unnecessary medical
evidence. You shouldn't be asked for a doctor's note for every
single absence, but it will be helpful to share information with
the school about your child's condition and the likely effect on
How schools deal with attendance issues varies in practice. Some
schools send out automated letters when attendance drops below a
certain level. This can be alarming and distressing, but there's
nothing to worry about if the absence is authorised. Always ask for
a copy of the attendance record and check the status of individual
If you are being fined or threatened with prosecution, please
helpline's special educational needs team.
No. The school cannot exclude your child, or simply take their
name off the register, for health reasons. Your child can only be
removed from the register for health reasons if:
You should not be put under pressure to remove your child from
school or to home educate them.
See our web pages on:
Support for mental health