Free article: A-Z of codes 1: marks for ‘present’


In this series of handy reference guides, Ben Whitney explores each of the recommended Codes in detail.


In the first article of the series, find out about the marks for ‘present’ before exploring all the other Codes in alphabetical order. It should be noted that this guidance relates only to those of compulsory school age.

Registration Code: / \

Present in school: / = am  \ = pm

Present in school during registration

Surely there’s no need for clarification here? I’m afraid there’s plenty. Remember, registration is essentially about the parent’s legal duty to make sure that their child is educated, not about monitoring the behaviour of the child. So the legal requirement for giving this mark is that the child is physically present at the point when the register is called. That may not necessarily mean that they were present for the whole session. Once the correct mark has been entered it cannot be removed, even if the child later goes home ill or leaves the premises without permission; they are still classed as having attended for that half-day. This is the irony about true ‘truancy’: if you receive your mark and then walk out, the published data and the school’s legal record will still show you as ‘present’ for that session and, as such, no legal action could be taken against the parent.

Morning registration must still be taken at the beginning of the day; in my view, afternoon registration is also best done at the beginning of the (afternoon) session, although this is not a legal requirement, provided it is done at some point. My own view is that there is still a strong argument for a proper, if brief, ‘registration period’ at the beginning of each session in order to emphasise the importance of the registration activity. Merging registration with the lesson makes a lot of practical sense, but does it risk making the whole process somewhat derisory and unimportant? If the school uses registration for every lesson as well (which can have real value but usually for other reasons), the system used must distinguish which marks define the status of the whole session, not just that one lesson.

We will come back later to the issue of lateness when we reach codes L and U, but how late can you arrive and still get a present mark? That is entirely at the school’s discretion, although case law has established that allowing up to 30 minutes is ‘reasonable’. Parents should be given some leeway to acknowledge that there may have been some genuine reason for the late arrival of their child. After that time, however, you can be marked as ‘unauthorised absent’ even if you subsequently arrive. But, as mentioned, this is all discretionary. Some schools (or even different individuals within the same school) might mark someone absent after five minutes; others will keep their registers open all morning and count a student as present whenever they arrive. While this is not actually illegal, neither is it recommended practice. Some late arrivals are legitimate and unavoidable; those children might end up with ‘presents’ or ‘absences’, depending on their school’s interpretation.

Many of those marked as present might not actually have been there for the whole session – we just don’t know. It all depends on when the register is marked and what view is taken about students who may not be there at that precise moment.

Code B Off-site educational activity (counts as present)

‘This code should be used when pupils are present at an off-site educational activity that has been approved by the school. Ulti-mately, schools are responsible for the safeguarding and welfare of pupils educated off site. Therefore, by using code B, schools are certifying that the education is supervised and measures have been taken to safeguard pupils. This code should not be used for any unsupervised educational activity or where a pupil is at home doing school work. Schools should ensure that they have in place ar-rangements whereby the provider of the alternative activity notifies the school of any absences by individual pupils. The school should record the pupil’s absence using the relevant absence code.

Consortia schools Pupils attending consortia schools as part of their course need to be placed only on the registers of their ‘main’ school, rather than on those of all of the schools they attend. They should be treated as guest pupils at the other consortia schools. The consortia schools, however, must ensure that they have suitable systems in place for monitoring and reporting the attendance and absence of the pupils involved, which must be shared with the ‘main’ school’.

(From School Attendance: Departmental Advice

Code B is a major factor in uncertainty about the validity of the figures and, unless it is used responsibly, raises very significant questions about pupils’ welfare. Increasing numbers of pupils, especially those with behavioural difficulties and those in KS4, do not necessarily receive all their education in their own school building. Quite rightly, the mark enables an attendance to be recorded when the pupil is where they are supposed to be, whether that is college, a special unit or alternative provision, etc. It may also be used for young people on supervised Inter-net-based distance learning programmes, some of whom may never physically attend the school at all, and for pupil who are, for that session, receiving tuition in a hospital or other setting.

The problem is that schools often fail to check whether the pupil is actually present on the day in question. Indeed, I have seen plenty of examples of B codes entered in advance, which is obviously unacceptable. It is extremely tempting to record an attendance anyway, especially as many of the children engaged in more flexible programmes may not have been the best attendees in the past. However, it is very poor practice and may raise important safeguarding concerns if the registers suggest that the pupil is engaging in supervised education for that session, whereas in fact they are not. In my experience, this is extremely common and, of course, it artificially inflates both the pupil’s and the school’s attendance records.

I have known an Ofsted inspector, noting that the number of pupils actually present in the school from a particular year group was significantly lower than the recorded level of attendance, to ask exactly where all the others were – and she expected an answer in each individual case by mid-morning break. B codes are also sometimes used incorrectly for pupils who are allowed to ‘work at home’ under parental supervision. However, these pupils are not in fact receiving the full-time education to which they are entitled. The DfE Advice clearly states that any such sessions are authorised absences, not to be counted as present.


Premium and Premium Plus subscribers can download these template documents from the Toolkit section:

  • Handout A to Z or codes best practice guide part 1
  • Table – Absence and attendance codes

About the author

Ben Whitney is an independent education welfare consultant and trainer, with over 20 years’ experience in attendance management for two local authorities. He has written several books, his latest being Just Ticking the Box? Refocusing school attendance. More information on his current training and consultancy services can be found at

See also the following information elsewhere on this website to find out more about code B:

  • Ofsted and attendance: View from the top part 2 in the Inspection section

First published on this website in March 2014.

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