Local Education Authorities (LEA) have a legal duty to ensure children attend school. The reasons behind non-attendance can be complex and numerous and the LEAs are committed to working with the school and parents or guardians of children to ensure the child returns to education. Prosecutions for are usually a last resort, only being exercised when all other strategies have failed. Here’s some answers to questions you might have:
I’ve received a summons to attend Magistrates’ Court , what should I do?
The hearing will be held in a Magistrates’ Court and, together with your summons date and time, you’ll receive a copy of the education welfare officer’s evidence and your child’s attendance record. Before you attend court you should seek legal advice to understand what your options are.
How can I defend myself if I’m summoned to court?
Your solicitor can advise you on this as each individual’s circumstances will be unique, but you generally have the right to challenge your prosecution if you can prove the head teacher authorised your child’s absence or that the reason for your child’s absence was sickness or an unavoidable cause. You can also argue that your child’s absence is on the grounds of religious observance or that the school is too far to walk to and there are no transport links available.
What will happen at court?
You’ll be asked to confirm your name, address and date of birth before pleading guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty the prosecution’s evidence and your child’s attendance record will be given to the magistrate. After this you’ll be given the opportunity to explain why your child’s attendance is poor. If you plead not guilty, the case will be adjourned to be heard as a trial. At the trial, your solicitor will put the case for your defence and call any witnesses. At the end of the trial the magistrates will decide how they’ll deal with your case.
Will I have to pay court/prosecution costs?
The LEA will ask the court to consider costs in addition to any decision made regarding sentencing.
How much can I be fined if my child doesn’t attend school?
Fines will follow the standardised Magistrates’ Court guidance and will be determined by reference to your means.
Can I get legal aid?
Possibly. Legal aid is available for this sort of case, but not everyone is eligible. We’re able to advise you on whether you’re circumstances meet the criteria to qualify for legal aid.