Term-time Truants

17 August 2016

In a recent High Court case it was held that a father who took his daughter out of school for an unauthorised term-time holiday did not have to pay a fine of £120 which the Isle of Wight Council sought to enforce against him.

Mr Platt took his daughter to Disney World, causing her to miss seven days of lessons during April 2015. The school had previously refused to give permission for the holiday. The government regulations state that head teachers may only authorise term-time absence if there are “exceptional circumstances.” A holiday is not deemed be an exceptional circumstance.

As a result of the unauthorised absence, the Local Authority issued Mr Platt with a £60 fine under the Education Act 1996, which doubled when Mr Platt refused to pay the fine within 21 days. The fine went unpaid and the Local Authority prosecuted Mr Platt for failing to ensure his daughter’s regular attendance at school, under section 444 of the Education Act 1996. Under that provision “if a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at school fails to attend regularly at the school, [her] parent is guilty of an offence.”

This case hinged on the meaning of “regular” attendance. The court found that, as Mr Platt’s daughter had an excellent attendance record overall (prior to the trip she had 100% attendance), the Local Authority failed to demonstrate that Mr Platt had not ensured his daughter’s “regular” attendance. The court concluded, in deciding whether a child had “regular” attendance, the attendance of the child should be viewed in a wider context rather than solely in relation to the period of unauthorised absence.

The statutory requirement on parents to ensure that their children regularly attend school is not necessarily a bar on taking them on holiday during term-time.

In my experience, as a Foundation Governor and parent at a West Sussex maintained school, parents are either inclined to take term-time holidays or they are not. I doubt whether this decision will cause swathes of the latter to change their conviction that attendance at school, where that is possible, is to be preferred. Whereas by the former this case should be treated with caution and not seen as a green light for term-time holidays. The decision related to the isolated absence of a child with an otherwise perfect attendance record.

The threshold of “regular” attendance remains unclear. More frequent, or annual, term-time holidays are likely to be viewed differently.

It should be noted that the local authority has applied for permission to appeal.

By Ben Collingwood & Erin Lyon

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