Procedures to Manage Student Absences

From Term 1 2017, Victorian government and Catholic schools will use the new Victorian Curriculum F-10. Curriculum related information is currently being reviewed and may be subject to change.

For more information on the curriculum, see:
The Victorian Curriculum F–10 - VCAA

Excusing and not excusing absences

Principals can consider the excuse given for an absence and use their discretion to decide if the parent has a reasonable excuse for not meeting their legal obligations (‘excused absence’) or does not have a reasonable excuse (‘unexcused absence’).

The process for making a decision about student absences involves a principal:

  • considering a request from a parent to approve an absence
  • exercising their discretion as to whether or not to excuse the absence
  • notifying the parent if the absences have not excused.

In exercising their discretion, the principal should take the following considerations into account:

  • whether the absence is explicitly covered in section 2.1.3 of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006
  • whether the student should do some learning activities during the absence (see: Student Absence Learning Plan)
  • if this kind of absence is covered in the school’s policy (e.g. shopping, birthday, visiting relatives)
  • whether or not the length of absence will affect the student’s learning
  • whether the parent has requested this kind of absence before, and if so how recently and how many times
  • whether or not the principal has approved this kind of absence before
  • cultural factors or details of the student and family’s circumstances
  • the implications for not approving the absence
  • whether an exemption would be appropriate, whereby the school should assist the parent apply for an exemption.

In general, it is expected that principals would excuse absences for:

  • medical and dental appointments, where out of hours appointments are not possible or not appropriate
  • bereavement or attendance at the funeral of a relative or friend of the student, including a student required to attend Sorry Business
  • school refusal, if a plan is in place with the parent to address causes
  • cultural observance, if the parent notifies the school in advance
  • family holidays, where the parent notifies the school in advance and the student completes any  Student Absence Learning Plan agreed by the school, student and parent.

In general, principals would not be expected to excuse absences, where:

  • approval had not been sought in advance or in accordance with school policy
  • the student was absent due to participating in leisure or social activities without approval
  • the conditions of approval have not been met (e.g. Student Absence Learning Plan for a family holiday not completed)
  • the parent has provided no explanation for the absences

Notes:

  • A principal can excuse these absences by establishing school policy for different absence types or by excusing absences on a case-by-case basis. School policy should be consistent with these guidelines.

  • Clause 2.1.3(fa) of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 allows principals to formally excuse absences in special circumstances where no other reasonable excuse exists.  However, it remains at the principal’s discretion to decide whether the excuse provided by a parent is reasonable.

When deciding to excuse an absence, principals can confirm that the excuse provided for an absence fits within the category of ‘unavoidable cause’ or ‘unforeseen event’ and should record the rationale for their decisions.

Truancy (defined in the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 as absences due to the child’s disobedience and not due to any fault of the parent) is a reasonable excuse for a parent.  In deciding to accept this explanation a principal must consider:

  • the age of the student
  • the previous attendance of the student and
  • the parent’s capacity to influence and control the student’s behaviour.

If, after considering these factors, the principal is not satisfied with the parent’s explanation that it was solely the student’s decision to be truant, then the absence should be regarded as an unexcused absence and the principal should follow the processes set out below. 

Truancy is often a warning sign of disengagement and is best addressed early in partnership with the family and school. For more information, see: Strategies to Improve a Student’s Attendance.

The table below provides examples of common reasons for absences and general advice for principals.

 
Common reason for abscence​ Parent approval required​ School required to confirm reason is authentic​ Reasonable excuse for parent​ General advice for principals​ Basis in ETR Act for reasonable excuse​ Follow up required​
Illness or accident​ Yes​ No​ Yes​ N/A​ 2.1.3(a)(i)​ No​
Medical/dental appointment​ Yes​ Yes​ Yes​ Approve if appointment cannot be scheduled outside school hours​ 2.1.3(fa)​ No, unless absences become excessive​
Attending or observing a religious event or obligation​ Yes​ No​ Yes​ N/A​​ 2.1.3(f)​ No​
Suspended​ No​ Yes​ Yes​ N/A​​ 2.1.3(d)​ Yes (suspension guidelines)​
Bereavement such as a death of a family member, attendance at a funeral and/or related mourning activities (sorry business)​ Yes​ Yes​ Requires principal to approve​ Approve​ 2.1.3(fa)​ Offer and provide support as required​
Truancy​ No​ Yes​ Yes​ N/A​​ 2.1.3(e)​ Meetings, Attendance Improvement Plan​
School refusal​ Yes​ Yes​ Requires principal to approve​ Approve if parents and school are working on plan to address cause​ 2.1.3(fa)​ Yes – meetings to identify and address the cause​
Family holiday​ Yes​ Yes​ Requires principal to approve​​ Approve if parents notify in advance. School policy should be developed for long or frequent/ repeated holidays ​ 2.1.3(fa)​ Student Absence Learning Plans developed in conjunction with classroom teachers​

Required to comply with another law​

Yes​ No​ Yes​ N/A​ 2.1.3(a)(ii)​ No, unless absences become excessive. Offer and provide support as required​
Cultural observance​ Yes Yes​ Requires principal to approve​​ Approve if parent notifies in advance​ 2.1.3(fa)​ No​
Leisure (shopping, visiting relatives)​ Yes​ Yes​ Requires principal to approve​​ Do not approve​ 2.1.3(fa)​ No​
Unforeseen event​ Yes​ Yes​ Yes​ Approve if satisfied event was unforeseen and prevented attendance​ 2.1.3(a)(i)​ No​
Unavoidable cause​ Yes​ Yes​ Yes​ Approve if satisfied event was unforeseen and prevented attendance​ 2.1.3(a)(i)​ No​
Other – special event or participation in elite sporting events/training​ Yes​ Yes​ Requires principal to approve​​ Case-by-case basis​ 2.1.3(fa)​ No​
Exemption​ No​ No​ Yes​ N/A​ 2.1.3(g)​ Ensure any conditions of exemption are met. Monitor attendance at other provider​
Employment in the entertainment industry​ Yes​ Yes (through approving exemption)​ Yes​ N/A​ 2.1.3(g)​ Yes, to ensure conditions of exemption are complied with​

Following up absences

Most absences will be excused and require no further follow up.
 
Where absences are of concern due to their nature or frequency, the school will involve the parents and the student as appropriate in developing strategies to improve attendance.
 
Parents should be informed that if a student has repeated absences without a reasonable excuse or explanation, the parent may be issued with a School Attendance Notice from a School Attendance Officer. ​Poor attendance or disengagement from school may trigger referral ​to a re-engagement program
 

Notes:

  • CASES21 provides letters to be used for notifying parents of absences and seeking explanations.

  • Schools should keep records of all attempts to contact parents or students and any information obtained.


No reasonable excuse provided

For all absences where the principal has determined that a parent has not provided a reasonable excuse, the school must notify the parent in writing that the absences have been recorded as such. Principals should take care to ensure that, wherever possible, this letter or email is addressed to the parent who has been deemed responsible for the child’s absence on the relevant day(s).

If the principal decides that no reasonable excuse has been provided for an absence, the absence must be recorded as such and the parent must be informed that this means:

  • they may not have met their obligations under the Education and Training Reform Act 2006.
  • an accumulation of these absences could lead to a School Attendance Notice from a School Attendance Officer
  • failure to comply with the School Attendance Notice may result in the issue of an Infringement Notice.

Unexplained absences

If a parent does not contact the school to provide an explanation on the day of the student absence, the school must attempt to contact the parent (for example by telephone) of the student within three days of the absence. If an explanation is received, the accurate cause of the absence must be recorded.

Schools must advise parents promptly of unexplained absences, including for post-compulsory aged students. Schools should take care to notify the parent who is responsible for ensuring the child’s attendance on that particular day. If, upon being notified of their child’s absence or contacted to seek an explanation, a parent reports that the child was not living with them on that day, the school should ensure they notify another parent who was responsible for ensuring the child attended school on the relevant day(s).

If contact cannot be made with the parent, the school should attempt to make contact with any emergency contact/s nominated on the student’s file held by the school.

If, following contact by letter or email, no explanation has been provided within 10 school days, the absence should be recorded as an unexplained absence and also be noted in the student’s file.

If whereabouts of a student is unknown

If, from multiple attempts to contact a parent, it becomes apparent that a student will not be returning to the school, the principal may make a referral to a School Attendance Officer if:

  • no alternative education destination can be found for the student, and
  • the student has been absent for 10 consecutive school days.

In the referral form, schools should provide information of all attempts to contact parents, students and emergency contact people and any information obtained. They must also ensure they keep written records of these attempts.
 
The School Attendance Officer will then:

  • enact procedures to locate the student, and
  • send a School Attendance Notice if the student cannot be located at another registered school or training provider.

Until notification from the School Attendance Officer is received, a school should continue to record the absences for that student as unexplained and advise the School Attendance Officer if they receive any information about the whereabouts of the student.
 
When a resolution is reached (e.g. student located, a response to a School Attendance Notice gives additional information, or no response is received to a School Attendance Notice), the School Attendance Officer will notify the school to do one or more of the following:

  • complete a transfer or exit process for the student, and provide an exit destination record
  • amend the attendance record for the time the student has not been attending, so the absences do not count towards the school’s absences, from a date specified by the School Attendance Officer
  • maintain the student’s enrolment at the school and amend the attendance records for the time the student was not attending to reflect the actual reason for the absence
  • implement a Return to School Plan for the student.

To make a referral to the School Attendance Officer on this basis see: Referral Form: Principal to School Attendance Officer - Whereabouts of Student Unknown

 

Note:

The principal or nominee must

  • keep records of all contact, or attempts to make contact, with the student's family, for a minimum period of one year
  • maintain documentation of all attempted and implemented intervention strategies aimed at restoring a student's attendance
  • ensure attendance records (electronic and hardcopy) are managed in accordance with standards set by the Public Record Office Victoria and guidelines issued by the Department (government schools), or relevant Commonwealth privacy legislation (non-government schools).See: Public Record Office Victoria