What do parents in France risk if children miss school for holiday?

Repeated unauthorised absences can mean parents risk meetings, fines, and even jail time

There are four acceptable reasons for an authorised 'leave of absence' in France

With several opportunities for holidays in France in May - with some savvy ‘bridging’ of bank holiday jours fériés - parents may be tempted to take children out of school. But this is not without risks.

The number of days off in May could present a particularly tempting period for parents to book holidays at lower term-time prices.

This is because, for example, with VE Day on Wednesday, May 8, and Ascension Day on Thursday, May 9, the National Education Ministry declared a ‘bridge (pont)’ for Friday, May 10. This means that for that week, school was only in session for two days (Monday, May 6 and Tuesday, May 7).

Read more: 10 days off for just 3 holiday days: Why French workers love May 
Read more: Museums, mothers and muguet: key dates to note in May in France 

Yet, now - and at all other times of the year - parents do risk sanctions if they take children out of school (or collège and lycée) during term time. 

Valid reasons for absence

Parents are not legally allowed to take their children out of school without a valid reason, and - unsurprisingly - “a holiday ‘bridge’” is not among the acceptable reasons.

There are four acceptable reasons for a “leave of absence”, as outlined by the National Education Ministry website.

  • The child is ill (or one of their relatives or close contacts is ill and contagious)

  • Family reasons such as a wedding or funeral

  • Transport accidents

  • When a child is required to be away with their parents or legal guardian for legal reasons

“Any other reason for absence may be considered and may be the subject of an absence authorisation by national education services,” the website states.

If your child will be absent from school, you must inform the director or head as soon as possible in advance, supplying one of the four acceptable reasons. You will need a doctor’s note if the reason is due to a contagious illness.

What happens if a child misses school? 

As soon as a child misses school without an agreed valid reason, parents will be contacted by the school. If the school feels that your reasons given are insufficient, they will inform the Dasen (Directeur académique des services de l'éducation nationale), who will send their own official warning.

After four half-days of unjustified absence in one month, the parents may be asked to attend a meeting with the educational team.

If the child is repeatedly absent despite the Dasen warnings, parents risk the involvement of the local prosecutor, and:

  • A fine of €135 for the first offence

  • A fine of up to €750 for repeated offences

If the absences continue and are judged to be affecting the child’s education - 10 half-days per month or more - the penalties can rise to:

  • A fine of up to €30,000

  • Up to two years’ imprisonment

In practice, parents are rarely fined for one or two days of absence. It is more likely that they will be invited to meetings with the school in a bid to ensure that the absences do not continue, and will not affect the child’s education or school relationships.