Compulsory School Attendance: What is the School’s Role?

The importance of daily school attendance for a child’s education and learning potential, health and wellbeing and social development cannot be underestimated. It is for this reason that the Victorian Government enacted legislative changes in 2014 to specifically implement rules pertaining to compulsory school attendance. These rules apply to all children throughout Victoria, whether they attend Victorian Government, Independent or Catholic Schools. The law imposes a duty on parents of compulsory school-aged children to ensure their regular attendance at school. The school itself also has a significant role to play, both in terms of encouraging student attendance and monitoring compliance with the rules.

What is the law on attendance?

All children in Victoria between the ages of 6 and 17 must be either enrolled at a registered school or registered for home schooling.[1] Parents of school-aged children must ensure their attendance at school to receive instruction or have a reasonable excuse for being absent. A parent who fails to comply with this duty without reasonable excuse faces penalties, including a fine, although this is generally implemented as a last resort.

A reasonable excuse may be illness, accident, attendance/observance of religious events, some other unforeseen event or unavoidable cause and/or any other reasonable excuse provided by the parent.[2] A parent is also not held to account in circumstances where school absence is due to the child’s disobedience and not of any fault of the parent.[3]

[1] Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s 2.1.1 & s 2.1.2
[2] Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s 2.1.3
[3] Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s 2.1.3(e)
Who is responsible for enforcing school attendance?

School Attendance Officers are responsible for monitoring and ensuring student enrolment and attendance in Victoria. Under the legislation, School Attendance Officers have the power to investigate cases where a child does not attend school, issue school enrolment or school attendance notices to parents and issue an official warning and/or issue infringement notices (fines) to parents for non-compliance.[1] It is an offence to provide false information to a School Attendance Officer and to wilfully obstruct, hinder or interfere with a school attendance officer in the performance or exercise of their duty.[2]

[1] Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s 2.1.10, 2.1.12, 2.1.15, 2.1.16 & 2.1.21
[2] Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) s 2.1.11 & s 2.1.22

What is the school’s responsibility for student attendance?

Schools must have a comprehensive understanding of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) and ensure that the parents of students within their care are aware of their responsibilities for attendance.

Principals play a major role in managing the attendance of students and ensuring compliance with the scheme. Principals are required to ensure all steps are taken to monitor and manage student attendance and meet the requirements of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic). Principals are required to:

  • Take attendance twice per day;
  • Keep records of all attendances and non-attendances and the reasons for any non-attendance;
  • Determine whether an excuse provided by the parent for the failure to attend school is a reasonable excuse – they have the power to approve or disapprove absence and may refer to individual school policies for assistance and guidance;
  • Contact the parent and ask them for the reason(s) for the child’s failure to attend school where no excuse has been given;
  • Provide a School Attendance Officer with any information regarding the enrolment or attendance of students if requested to do so;
  • Refer the matter to a School Attendance Officer in the event that the child has been absent from the school on a least 5 separate days in the previous with 12 months without reasonable excuse and interventions/strategies to improve attendance are inappropriate or have been unsuccessful.
The above duties are imposed on the school under the applicable legislation in addition to the well-established duty of care a school owes to its students to take reasonable care for their safety and wellbeing.

How can Brennan Law Partners assist?

Brennan Law Partners can assist you to ensure that your school’s record keeping meets the requirements of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 (Vic) and that your school is implementing proactive measures to improve poor student attendance. Contact us to review your school attendance policies and procedures to ensure they are effective and up to date. Let us know if you are unsure about what steps to take in a given situation, particularly when determining whether the reason provided for a child’s absence should be considered reasonable.

For further information, principals should familiarise themselves with the comprehensive School Attendance Guidelines published by the Victorian Department of Education and Training on 19 January 2018. These guidelines support schools and school attendance officers to meet their responsibilities and duties under the law.

If you have any questions regarding any information in this BLP Brief, we welcome you to contact us at any time.

This is meant as a guide only and should not be taken as legal advice.

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