School life

Attendance and absenteeism

Compulsory school age is when children must be enrolled in and attend school, from when they turn 6 until they turn 16 . Compulsory education age is when students aged 16 must be in an approved learning program until they turn 17.

Patterns of attendance and absence that are set up in the early years usually persist through education and life. Regular attendance at school is important to a child's learning and development.

Poor attendance may lead to learning difficulties because children who are frequently absent are likely to miss learning the basic skills needed for their future education.

Schools and preschools work with parents to encourage attendance and participation to:

  • provide a safe, success orientated and caring environment
  • provide relevant learning programs for all students
  • maintain accurate records of attendance
  • ensure non-attendance is followed up through early intervention
  • develop strategies to resolve attendance difficulties.

Approved learning programs

  • traditional secondary school, including studying towards:
    • SACE (South Australia Certificate of Education)
    • International Baccalaureate (IB)
    • Steiner Education (Waldorf Schools) Secondary Certificate
  • technical and further education (TAFE) courses or accredited courses offered by registered training organisations
  • apprenticeships or traineeships
  • university degrees, diplomas or other university award courses
  • other programs authorised by the Minister for Education and Child Development
  • a combination of the above.

Where the young person has achieved a SACE or other qualification, under an approved learning program, there is no compulsion for them to continue to participate past the age of 16.

For vocational education qualifications, Certificate 2 is considered sufficient, as it provides a defined qualification which leads into further vocational education, such as Certificate 3, which could be completed via a registered training organisation.

When it's acceptable for children to be absent

Situations where it is acceptable for a child to miss school include times when the:

  • child is too sick to leave the house
  • child has an infectious illness such as gastroenteritis, chicken pox or measles
  • child needs to attend medical or dental appointments that could not be made out of school hours
  • school principal is provided with a genuine reason that prevents the child attending school
  • child has been granted an exemption from school
  • child has been sent home or suspended from school for disciplinary reasons.

If a student is absent due to reported illness for three or more consecutive days the principal can ask for a medical certificate.

Informing school about your child's absence

It is important to notify the school of your child's absence and the reason for it. If you are unable to notify the school in advance, send a note covering the days missed when your child returns.

Refusal to attend school

A child's refusal to go to school can be very distressing both to parents and the child. Non-attendance can take different forms. While some children may refuse to leave home, others may leave the house but not attend school or slip away from the school (truancy).

There are many reasons why children refuse to attend school:

  • separation anxiety
  • learning difficulties
  • not having friends
  • being bullied at school
  • not getting along with teachers.

What to do if your child refuses to attend school

If you have difficulty with your child attending school you should immediately contact the school to seek help. There are many staff members who can assist you. You can discuss your concerns with your child's teacher, school counsellor, year level manager, deputy principal or the school principal.

For more information on how to help your child with their school attendance phone the parents' hotline on 1300 364 100 or visit the parenting and child health website.

Related information

On this site

Support for students with complex health needs or disability
Health issues and health plans
Infectious diseases and exclusion from child care, preschool and school
Exemption from attending school

Other websites

Attendance - Department for Education and Child Development


Education Act 1972

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Page last updated 29 November 2016

Provided by:
Department for Education and Child Development
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