A-Z of Codes 5: Codes M, N, O, P and R


Continuing his series of handy reference guides, Ben Whitney explores each of the recommended Codes in detail, including:

  • The text of the official DfE ‘Advice’ (November 2013)
  • Commentary on the issues raised
  • Some points to inform best practice.

In the fifth article in this series, find out about the marks for medical or dental appointments; reason for absence not yet provided; absent from school without authorisation; participating in a supervised sporting activity; and religious observance. Note that this guidance relates only to those of compulsory school age.

Code M: Medical or dental appointments (authorised absent)

‘Missing registration for a medical or dental appointment is counted as an authorised absence. Schools should, however, encourage parents to make appointments out of school hours. Where this is not possible, the pupil should only be out of school for the minimum amount of time necessary for the appointment’.

(from School Attendance: Departmental Advicehttp://bit.ly/deptadvice)

This code is only for use where the pupil misses the whole session, ideally notified in advance. There is no requirement to classify the session as an absence unless the pupil misses the entire morning or afternoon. If they need to leave school for an appointment with permission, or due to illness, there is no need to change the original present mark, other than for fire regulation purposes.

Similarly, if they come in late after an appointment, the school has to decide whether to credit that session as an attendance; this would seem reasonable if the appointment was genuine, especially if the parent has given advanced notice. (The L code counts as an attendance and could be used to show that the pupil has arrived and been registered; only U would be available otherwise if the school considers the reason unjustified. Code M indicates that they were never there, which would be incorrect.)

Code N: Reason for absence not yet provided (unauthorised absent)

‘Schools should follow up all unexplained and unexpected absences in a timely manner. Every effort should be made to establish the reason for a pupil’s absence. When the reason for the pupil’s absence has been established the register should be amended. This code should not be left on a pupil’s attendance record indefinitely; if no reason for absence is provided after a reasonable amount of time, it should be replaced with Code O (absent from school without authorisation).’

(from School Attendance: Departmental Advicehttp://bit.ly/deptadvice)

Code N is an interim mark pending more information and, at the latest, should be changed to either an O or some other code before registers are closed for the termly DfE census. A decision has to be made one way or the other. The intention is that if no proper explanation has been provided by the parent within a reasonable time (though this period is not defined), the school should then decide whether the absence is permanently unauthorised. It is not acceptable to send out lists of absences, long after the event, for them to be ‘authorised’ retrospectively with a single parental signature. It is the headteacher, or someone acting on their behalf, who must make a decision in each case, not the parent.

Code O: Absent from school without authorisation (unauthorised absent)

‘If the school is not satisfied with the reason given for absence, they should record it as unauthorised’.

(from School Attendance: Departmental Advicehttp://bit.ly/deptadvice)

The initial perceived emphasis in current attendance recording expectations was that schools should keep unauthorised absence as low as possible. Some schools still seem to see this as their priority. However, this is no longer true – for example, authorising absences that are inappropriate without a level of challenge is likely to lead to poorer levels of attendance than could otherwise be achieved. Over-generous authorisation is not considered good practice. Your school’s attendance policy should give some indication of which circumstances will generally result in unauthorised absences being recorded. This will include trivial reasons that are not acceptable unless the circumstances are very unusual, e.g. shopping, birthdays, etc., and where any other unacceptable reasons have been given by parents, as well as sessions which have remained unexplained and for which no ‘leave’ was given.

Code P: Participating in a supervised sporting activity (present)

‘This code should be used to record the sessions when a pupil is taking part in a sporting activity that has been approved by the school and supervised by someone authorised by the school’.

(from School Attendance: Departmental Advicehttp://bit.ly/deptadvice)

This code counts as present so the implications of using it are considerable. It was originally intended for situations where children are involved in any representative or supervised sports event (or trial) on behalf of the school or local authority (LA) that has been agreed by the headteacher. Some schools also use it for events of a musical nature and grade examinations in school time if a whole session has to be missed.

An added factor in recent years is that children may be taking part in sporting activities of a semi-professional nature, or participating in major events or in training for them. (Under the child entertainment regulations, if any payment is involved, some of these may require a ‘performance licence’ from the LA.) If the child is receiving some or all of their agreed educational programme at a football or alternate academy, this would probably be best recorded as a Code B (as long as they actually attend when required).

All such arrangements are at the headteacher’s discretion, unless a licence has been issued by the LA where required and which specifically approves the time away from school.

Code R: Religious observance (authorised absent)

‘Schools must treat absence as authorised when it is due to religious observance. The day must be exclusively set apart for religious observance by the religious body to which the parents belong. Where necessary, schools should seek advice from the parents’ religious body about whether it has set the day apart for religious observance’.

(from School Attendance: Departmental Advicehttp://bit.ly/deptadvice)

This covers any major festival in any religious community as requested by parents (there is no set limit on the number of days but weekly absence would not be reasonable). This can account for a considerable amount of absence in some schools. Where this is an issue, it is important to establish a dialogue with local faith leaders and parents about keeping such absences to a minimum, but schools have little choice but to authorise them if they are genuinely for religious reasons. If not, they should not be authorised.

Further information


Use the following item in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice:

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 is the author of several books on both attendance and child protection. More information on his current training and consultancy services can be found at www.ben-whitney.org.uk.

First published on this website in March 2015.

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About Author

Ben Whitney

Ben Whitney is an independent education welfare consultant and trainer, with over 20 years’ experience in attendance management for two local authorities. He is the author of several books on both attendance and child protection. More information on his current training and consultancy services can be found at www.ben-whitney.org.uk.

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