Schools demanding GP Fit Notes

R Mason made this Freedom of Information request to Department for Education

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was refused by Department for Education.

Dear Department for Education,

Please advise

1. what guidance is provided to schools and attendance officers/ educational welfare officers and their equivalents regarding their demanding proof of illness

2. under what circumstances, if ever, it is acceptable for schools to demand that parents obtain sick notes (aka fit notes) from the child's GP

Yours faithfully,

R. Mason

Department for Education

Dear R Mason 

Thank you for your request for information, which was received on 17 June. Your request was as follows:
Please advise

1. what guidance is provided to schools and attendance officers/educational welfare officers and their equivalents regarding their demanding proof of illness.

2. under what circumstances, if ever, it is acceptable for schools to demand that parents obtain sick notes (aka fit notes) from the child’s GP.
I have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Under section 21 of the Act, the Department is not required to provide information in response to a request if it is already reasonably accessible to you. The information you requested is available on GOV.UK in the Department for Education advice on school attendance which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publicatio.... Please see page 10; Code I: Illness.
If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me at [email address]<mailto:[email address]>. Please remember to quote the reference number 2016-0030402 in any future communications.
If you are unhappy with the way your request has been handled, you should make a complaint to the Department by writing to me within two calendar months of the date of this letter. Your complaint will be considered by an independent review panel, who were not involved in the original consideration of your request.
If you are not content with the outcome of your complaint to the Department, you may then contact the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Yours sincerely

Karen Kennedy 

Web: https://www.education.gov.uk<https://www.education.gov.uk/>
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

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Dear Department for Education,

The only mention in the guidance you have linked to (which I had already consulted) is "Schools should authorise absences due to illness unless they have genuine cause for concern about the veracity of an illness. If the authenticity of illness is in doubt, schools can request parents to provide medical evidence to support illness. Schools can record the absence as unauthorised if not satisfied of the authenticity of the
illness but should advise parents of their intention. Schools are advised not to request medical evidence unnecessarily. Medical evidence can take the form of prescriptions, appointment cards, etc. rather than doctors’ notes."

The question arises because it appears schools are incorrectly marking absences as unauthorised instead of as illness - without any evidence to support their claim that the child wasn't ill.

My question was "under what circumstances, if ever, it is acceptable for schools to demand that parents obtain sick notes (aka fit notes) from the child's GP"

Yours faithfully,

R Mason

Department for Education

Dear R Mason

Thank you for your further correspondence of 11 July about proof of illness.

I am sorry you feel that my previous response did not address your question "under what circumstance, if ever, it is acceptable for schools to demand that parents obtain sick notes (aka fit notes) from the child's GP".

Schools should only normally ask parents to provide evidence if they suspect the illness is not genuine and the parent is failing in their legal duty to ensure their child's attendance at school.

Schools are advised not to request medical evidence unnecessarily. Medical evidence should not necessarily be a doctor’s note if the illness was not treated by a doctor at the time. Parents can provide prescriptions, a doctor or hospital appointment card as proof of illness.

It may be helpful if I explain that the contents and maintenance of the school attendance register is governed by the Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006, as amended.

Regulations require schools to take the attendance register at the start of each morning session and once during each afternoon session. On each occasion they must record whether every pupil is:

* present;
* attending an approved educational activity;
* absent; or,
* unable to attend due to exceptional circumstances.
In the case of any such pupil of compulsory school age who is:

· attending an approved educational activity, the nature of that activity;

· absent, a statement whether or not the absence is authorised;

· unable to attend due to exceptional circumstances, the nature of those circumstances.

Regulations also set out that if a pupil is unable to attend school by reason of sickness their absence will be treated as authorised.

The Department’s advice is clear that schools should authorise absences due to illness unless they have genuine cause for concern about the veracity of an illness. If the authenticity of illness is in doubt, schools can request parents to provide medical evidence to support illness.

When developing policies on school attendance schools should ensure they are compliant with regulations. Schools should also consider the Department’s advice as it is clearly a relevant factor to take into account when making decisions about how absence should be recorded.

Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2016-0033887. If you need to respond to us, please visit: https://www.education.gov.uk/contactus and quote your reference number.

Yours sincerely

Karen Kennedy 

Web: https://www.education.gov.uk<https://www.education.gov.uk/>
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

[https://www.education.gov.uk/images2/iri...

Dear Department for Education,

I refer you to the BMA guidance (which can be found at https://www.bma.org.uk/advice/employment...)

"It should be noted that GPs do not provide sick notes for schoolchildren. When children are absent from school owing to illness, schools may request a letter from a parent or guardian, and this is no different during an exam period. However, children who have missed exams due to illness are frequently told by schools that a note from a doctor is required; but this cannot be provided by a GP. Aside from the fact that parents/guardians are responsible for excusing their children from school, GPs cannot provide retrospective sickness certification. When a child suffers from a long-term condition, any certification will be provided by the responsible specialist."

And I repeat my original question:

"under what circumstance, if ever, it is acceptable for schools to demand that parents obtain sick notes (aka fit notes) from the child's GP"

Yours faithfully,

R Mason

Department for Education

Dear Mr Mason,
Thank you for your further correspondence of 23 August about proof of illness.
I am sorry that you still feel that I have not addressed your question ‘under what circumstances, if ever, is it acceptable for schools to demand that parents obtain sick notes (aka fit notes) for the child’s GP’.

My previous response set out what the regulations require in terms of the attendance register and what the Department’s advice is on authorising absence due to illness.
It would be for the school to determine whether they require parents to provide evidence. As mentioned in my previous response, schools are advised not to request medical evidence unnecessarily and should only ask if they suspect the illness is not genuine and the parent is failing in their legal duty to ensure their child’s attendance at school. Medical evidence can take the form of prescriptions, appointment cards, etc. rather than doctors’ notes.
When developing policies on school attendance schools should ensure they are compliant with regulations. Schools should also consider the Department’s advice as it is clearly a relevant factor to take into account when making decisions about how absence should be recorded.
Thank you for highlighting the British Medical Association guidance which sets out that GPs do not provide sick notes for school children. We will consider whether the Department’s advice on school attendance needs to be clearer regarding this particular issue.

Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2016-0039758. If you need to respond to us, please visit: https://www.education.gov.uk/contactus and quote your reference number.
Yours sincerely,
Karen Kennedy

Web: https://www.education.gov.uk<https://www.education.gov.uk/>
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

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Dear Department for Education,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Department for Education's handling of my FOI request 'Schools demanding GP Fit Notes'.

The response did not address my specific query and, when I pointed this out, the response was effectively just repeated.

I understand you need to look into the problem but you have not offered to provide the information originally requested when that review has been completed. Apparently I have to chase you for it?

This is obviously unacceptable.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/s...

Yours faithfully,

R Mason

Department for Education

Thank you for your message. Please note that from 1st October 2016 this email address is changing to [DfE request email]

Department for Education

Dear Mason

Thank you for your recent enquiry. A reply will be sent to you as soon as possible. For information; the departmental standard for correspondence received is that responses should be sent within 20 working days as you are requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2016-0044091.

Thank you

Department for Education
Ministerial and Public Communications Division
Tel: 0370 000 2288

show quoted sections

Department for Education

Dear  Mason 

I refer to your request for an internal review which was received on 20 September 2016. Your requested a review on the handling of your FOI request ‘schools demanding GP Fit Notes’; our reference 2016-0030402.

The Department has now completed its internal review process and has carried out a thorough review of the case, chaired by a senior officer who was not involved with the original request. The Department has decided to uphold the original decision not to disclose the information concerned, for the same reasons set out in the email of 11 July 2016.

The panel considered the application of exemption section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The panel noted that the information you requested is already reasonably accessible to you and that you were provided with a link to the relevant guidance, including the page number and reference to the appropriate section within that guidance. On balance, the panel therefore concluded that the decision to apply exemption section 21 was correct and that the Department had fully met your FOI request.

The panel did however note that in part your request included a policy question and that subsequent correspondence had ensued regarding this.

With regard to your specific policy question "under what circumstance, if ever, it is acceptable for schools to demand that parents obtain sick notes (aka fit notes) from the child's GP" we are sorry that you continue to feel that your question has not been addressed.

To summarise our previous responses, where the authenticity of illness is in doubt and the school suspects the parent is failing in their legal duty to ensure their child’s attendance, the school may ask the parent to provide evidence. Schools are advised not to request medical evidence unnecessarily. Rather than a doctor’s note our advice is that medical evidence can take the form of prescriptions, appointment cards etc. As intimated in the email of 14 September 2016 we will consider whether the Department’s advice on school attendance needs to be clearer regarding this particular issue.

If you are unhappy with this decision, you have the right to appeal directly to the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:

The Case Reception Unit

Customer Service Team

Information Commissioner’s Office

Wycliffe House

Water Lane

Wilmslow

Cheshire

SK9 5AF

Further information about the Information Commissioner’s complaints procedure can be found on the Information Commissioner’s Office website: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/gui...

Yours sincerely

Karen Kennedy 

Web: https://www.education.gov.uk<https://www.education.gov.uk/>
Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

[https://www.education.gov.uk/images2/iri...