Referral to a school attendance officer

Referring a student attendance matter to a school attendance officer may be appropriate where the principal determines that:

  • intervention strategies have been unable to secure parental engagement and improvement in school attendance (or engagement in another educational program)
  • requiring the parent to respond to the notice will convey the seriousness of the matter and is likely to elicit an improvement in attendance.

A principal does not have to make a referral for all absences that meet these criteria but may continue to manage the absences at a school level.

Considerations before making a referral

To make a referral to a school attendance officer a principal needs to be able to establish that:

  • the student has been absent from school on at least five full days in the previous 12 months and the parent has not provided a reasonable excuse for these absences
  • measures to improve the student's attendance have been undertaken and been unsuccessful, or are inappropriate in the circumstances
  • a parent responsible for the absences can be identified (a single person to be the addressee of the school attendance notice).

Principals should also be certain they have evidence to demonstrate the parent has not been meeting their responsibilities.

If these conditions are met, the principal should also:

  • be satisfied that the reasons for the failure to comply with attendance requirements have been explored, including any social, cultural, linguistic, economic, geographic or learning difficulties
  • ensure that if a student support group has been established for the student, or another support mechanism exists for the student, that group has been consulted about the particular attendance issue or that mechanism utilised before making a referral to a school attendance officer
  • consider the particular circumstances of the student and family in deciding to make a referral, including likely consequences if the parent does not respond adequately to a school attendance notice
  • have attempted to contact the parent in question by telephone to advise of the situation and confirm their awareness of the seriousness of the issue.

Prior to referring the matter, government school principals may also wish to consult with the health and wellbeing officers in their regional office for advice about the appropriateness of making a referral to the school attendance officer.  Seeking advice from staff in the department's regional office does not oblige the principal to make a referral.

Further resources to support principals in making a referral can be found at Attendance resources for principals

Further considerations

Non-compulsory school aged students

A school attendance notice may only be sent in relation to a student of compulsory school age. Before making a referral, principals should check that the student is of compulsory school age, particularly for students in Prep or Year 11 and 12.

Mature minors

Where a student is under 18 but their maturity is such that they may be considered a 'mature minor', the school should focus on attendance improvement strategies that do not include referral to a school attendance officer for a school attendance notice.

International students

If the student is an international student, the principal should consult with the International Education Division to confirm the visa status for the child and act in accordance with the school attendance enforcement provisions and sanctions under the Education and Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Framework.

For more information, see: 

How to make a referral

To make referral to a school attendance officer, principals need to complete a referral form, which can be found on the department's intranet, see Attendance resources for principals

This form will need to be submitted to the school attendance officer via your closest regional office. To find your nearest regional office, see Regions

After making a referral or report, a school must continue to record and monitor the student’s attendance.

Referral for student whereabouts 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.

To make a referral, principals must use the referral form, which can be found on the department's intranet, see Attendance resources for principals

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.

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 (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.

For Catholic schools

Principals in Catholic schools are required to consult with relevant Diocesan Catholic education office wellbeing personnel before any referral to a department school attendance officer.  For more information, see Dioceses.

Resources for principals

For further information and resources to support principals make a referral to a school attendance officer, see: Atendance resources for schools, (eduMail login required).

Information for school attendance officers

For more information, see: School attendance notices.​