The High Court has today ruled on an issue which will be big news for millions of parents across the country.
The case concerned Jon Platt, a father from the Isle of Wight who took his daughter to Florida in 2015, causing her to miss seven days of schooling. He returned and was issued with a fixed penalty notice of £60 which later increased to £120 after it was not paid promptly. Mr Platt was then later prosecuted under s444 (1) of the Education Act 1996 which makes it an offence for any parent to fail to ensure their child’s regular attendance at school.
Mr Platt argued before Magistrates that his daughter did have “regular attendance” at school, and mid way through his case asked the court to dismiss the Local Authority’s case on the basis that there was no case to answer. The bench agreed that as Mr Platt’s daughter’s attendance at school was in excess of 93%, she did in fact attend school regularly and the prosecution against Mr Platt failed.
Perturbed by the decision of the Magistrates Court, the Isle of Wight LEA appealed to the High Court seeking clarification of the law as to whether the Magistrates were entitled to consider overall attendance as opposed to attendance specified within the period of the summons.
The High Court has today ruled that the term “regular attendance” should be considered in light of overall attendance as opposed to a specific period of absence during the school year. In literal terms this means that provided a child has good attendance at school, parents are not guilty under s. 444 (1)for taking a child out of school for a short period of time.
As a solicitor and a mother of three who represents defendants in the Education Court on a regular basis, today’s ruling is of great interest to me, not least as it throws into uncertainty the Government’s efforts to take a strict line on term time holidays in state schools in England
The dispute over term time holidays has been an ongoing issue since September 2013 when new rules came into force taking away a headteacher’s discretion to grant term time leave based on each case’s individual merits. The new rules now only give headteacher’s the power to grant term time leave only in exceptional circumstances.
But what is an exceptional circumstance? Examples include taking a child out of school to attend a family member’s funeral, or if a family member in the armed forces is returning from operations. However I was present in court when a case regarding this issue was being heard before Liverpool Magistrates Court. A mother of two children appeared before the court representing herself. She pleaded guilty to the offence under s444(1) Education Act and then told the court that she had separated from her children’s father following domestic abuse and needed to relocate, uprooting her children from their family home. She went on to explain that her father had paid for her and her children to go on holiday to spend quality time together away from the city after their trauma and so she had taken her children out of school for five days and that they had a welcome break from their situation. The bench asked about the children’s attendance and the prosecutor from the Local Authority confirmed that it was around 95%. The unrepresented defendant lost her good character and will now have a criminal record. Today’s’ clarification from the High Court will mean that defendants in a similar position would no longer be guilty of an offence.
Like the vast majority of parents in England and Wales, my children’s education is of the utmost importance to me. Whilst to date I have never taken my own children out of school during term time, today’s ruling will have massive implications for me and millions of other parents across the country . Some would argue that missing school; particularly secondary school can significantly affect progress. Others would say that if a child is thriving at school and is rarely absent, it would be unfair to penalise a parent for taking that child away, after all it could well be the case that that same child could simply have been off ill for that period of time.
Let’s be clear on this, no statute in English Law says that it is an offence to go on holiday with a child during school term time. However, what the statute does say is that a parent must ensure a child’s regular attendance at school. As a result of today’s decision, the local authority must now take into account a child’s academic attendance record as a whole before prosecuting a parent under s444 (1) of the Education Act, potentially opening the floodgates for parents of children with otherwise very good attendance at school to now be in a position to take their child out of school for family holidays.