Go to School

Get the most out of your time at school by avoiding absence, learning well, taking up activities and other opportunities and solving problems quickly when they happen
school desks

Compulsory school age runs from age 5 to 16. Parents have a duty to make sure that all children receive an education during these years. For most children this means going to school, although you can also be educated at home.

Most children also go to nursery or preschool before they are five. This helps them get used to activities, learning and getting along with other children.

In Oxfordshire, most young people aged 16-18 also continue in school or college, though some carry on learning alongside work, or in an apprenticeship.

When you add all this time together, young people will spend around 10,000 hours of their lives in schools and other education settings!

Take Action: Find out 13 ways to make the most of your time in lessons from an Oxford Summer School.

Absence from school - the facts

Everyone gets times when they aren't able to go to school, for example if you are ill.  If this happens, your parents have to inform the school. This is called "authorised absence". The school needs to approve absence for any reason.

It is important to make sure you miss as little school time as possible, because once you fall behind, it can be heard to catch up. It also exposes you to other kinds of risk:

  • 90% of young people with absence rates below 85% fail to achieve five or more good grades of GCSE and around one third achieve no GCSEs at all
  • Worse exam results mean you have fewer learning options post-16
  • Lower attendance can make colleges and employers think that students are unreliable
  • Lower school attendance exposes you to risks like exploitation and crime - a quarter of school age offenders have truanted repeatedly

A lot of people (not all!) sometimes don't want to go to school. Reasons can include:

  • feeling tired or unwell
  • being sad or fed up
  • someone making life at school difficult or bullying you
  • finding schoolwork hard
  • worrying about things that are happening at home

When there is a problem at school or home, not going to school might seem like a way to get some space. But refusing school is a very risky idea. Evidence shows that refusing to go to school puts you at risk of further absences, or even dropping out completely. Young people who take action to solve the problems, or who focus on learning, sport or something else at school instead of the problems, do better.

Instant expert: Find out all the rules about absence at school on the Oxfordshire County Council website.

Solving problems at school

Learning to solve problems at school helps you build skills for your future. Sometimes these are called soft skills, or people skills. Employers value these skills because they make a person better at working with other people. They help make you work ready.

But you don't have to do everything yourself. Parents, carers and other friends and family members can often help. But there are also people whose job it is to support you to solve problems:

  • Your School Health Nurse or Doctor can help with feeling ill, tired or low
  • Your Teacher or Teaching Assistant can help you solve problems with learning, study, schoolwork, and homework.
  • You also ask either of these or any other trusted adult for help with Bullying or other problems with someone else at school or home

More help is available for students who have learning difficulties and disabilities, and for those with other things going on in their life, for example if they are a young carer, a young parent or someone is misusing drugs or alcohol at home.

Crucial: Most children have some problems at school, and it is normal to want to solve these yourself. But any problem that is making you regularly stressed or unhappy needs to be sorted out before it has an effect on your learning.  

Your right to education 

You have the right to free education up to age 18. Usually this is provided via a school or college, though parents can provide education at home. If you are excluded from school, you still need to carry on learning. This is also true if you are in alternative provision, on reduced hours or doing work experience.  Attendance at all of these is compulsory!

Post-16, children can continue to study at college or take an apprenticeship. If you do no already have grade C or above in GCSE English and Maths (grade 5 or above on the new grading system), you need to carry on with these as part of your study programme. Good English and Maths GCSEs are often called minimum qualifications, though there are some opportunities which do not need them.

Instant expert: All the rules on exclusions from Oxfordshire County Council.

Missing from school?

Taking time off school without permission is breaking the law. Your parents can arrange absences by talking to the school, although the school will say no if they think your learning will be damaged by the absence. Up until age 16, your parents are responsible for making sure you go to school, and if you are absent they could be fined.

If there are problems stopping you attending, then your parents must tell the school, so they can work together to to support you to improve attendance.

After age 16, you are responsible for making sure you attend learning. If you don't attend, you won't be fined, but you may get worse grades or lose your place in learning. If you drop out of post-16 learning, you must register with the local education authority for support.

Young people who go absent from school are at risk of much more than just failing exams. Research shows that young people who go missing from school, even for short periods of time, are more at risk of criminal exploitation, child sexual exploitation or being encouraged to start drinking or taking drugs.

Because this is such a serious problem, if your attendance drops, your school or college will investigate and make efforts to help you stay in learning. You also have a responsibility to attend and work with the learning provider, or the local education authority, to solve problems.

My opinion: It is important that young people go to school because they need to get a GCSE and become rich. Attending school every day allows students to make progress together with other students. Interacting with other students allows children to gain valuable social skills. Also going to school helps you when you live your older life. In my opinion, it is important to go to school because you can get a good GCSE if you focus hard and then you will live a life you’ve always wanted. - Murat, 15, Oxford

Changing schools

Changes between school (sometimes called transitions) are a challenge. This is because you are:

  • Changing rules, environment, teachers
  • Often moving to a bigger school with more pupils
  • Changing your friend group

Support will be offered to help you settle into a new school, especially if there is a reason you might find this very disruptive, for example if you have special educational needs. For lots of people this is an exciting time, but because of the disruption it is usually best for your learning if you change schools as few times as possible.

Crucial: If there are serious problems at one school, you can sometimes move to another school. This is a last resort because it disrupts learning and often results in lower attendance.

Extra-curricular activities

In addition to the standard curriculum - the lessons you have to attend - school also offer extra-curricular activities and after-school clubs. These can be free-time activities like sports, arts, music drama, gaming or coding clubs, or groups where you can find out more about subjects that interest you. They can also be places where you can do homework in peace, improve your reading, or revise for exams.

Most children attend clubs and activities outside of school time during their primary school years. They provide the opportunity to learn different skills, make different friends and find out which things interest you.

During secondary school years, fewer children do clubs and activities.  There are different reasons for this:

  • Needing more time for study
  • Feeling self-conscious, or that you are not good enough
  • Wanting to spend more time on your own interests

Although these may feel like good reasons, studies show that those who carry on doing organised activities during their teenage years are more likely to get good marks, and less likely to drop out of school. This is especially true if you have other stresses and difficulties in your life. No-one is certain why, but there are theories:

  • Doing your activity regularly helps you with other things you do regularly, like attending school
  • The friends you make at your activity help you feel more socially connected with school
  • You learn skills at your activity that help you with school
  • Doing things you enjoy makes learning easier

To get the most out of your school, make sure you take advantage of after-school clubs and extra-curricular activities, including sports facilities; making a habit of getting active during your teenage years will help support your health for the rest of your life. 

Crucial: If your school doesn't offer activities you enjoy, you can get similar benefits from an activity offered in your local community. Find an activity.

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