Ban on term time holidays upheld

Posted on April 6, 2017

The controversial issue of whether children should be allowed to go on holiday during term-time took another twist today when the Supreme Court upheld the ban. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court upheld the fine imposed on a father, Mr Platt, for taking his child out of school for an unauthorised holiday in April 2015.

Last year, Mr Platt successfully challenged the council’s original £60 fine. But delivering the judgment Lady Hale, said: “Unauthorised absences have a disruptive effect, not only on the education of the individual child but also on the work of other pupils.

“If one pupil can be taken out whenever it suits the parent, then so can others. … Any educational system expects people to keep the rules. Not to do so is unfair to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the costs or inconvenience to themselves.”

The main issue in this case was the definition of the words “fails to attend regularly” in section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996. It was confirmed today that “regularly” does not mean “evenly spaced” or “sufficiently often” but “in accordance with the attendance rules”. Mr Platt’s daughter had an attendance of 92.3%.

In 2013 head teachers in England were given some discretion to allow up to two weeks’ term time holiday for pupils with good attendance. This lead to a rise in parents being fined for taking children on unauthorised holidays in an attempt to avoid increased holiday prices outside of term time.

Speaking outside the Supreme Court today, Mr Platt said that he would fight against paying the penalty notice when the case returns to the magistrates’ court. He said “You can no longer decide to take your children out of school without the permission of the state”.

Mr Platt went on to say, “The decisions of the high court judges in 1969 and 2006 informed [my] decision…I have just been told that I was wrong to rely on those decisions. … The consequences of this decision can only be described as shocking. Every unauthorised absence … is now a criminal offence.”

Lady Hale said that the high court had “clearly been worried about the consequence that a single missed attendance without leave or unavoidable cause would lead to criminal liability. However, there are several answers to this concern.

“First, there are many examples where a very minor or trivial breach of the law can lead to criminal liability. It is an offence to steal a milk bottle, to drive at 31 mph where the limit is 30 or to fail to declare imported goods which are just over the permitted limit.

“The answer in such cases is a sensible prosecution policy. In some cases, of which this is one, this can involve the use of fixed-penalty notices, which recognise that a person should not have behaved in this way but spare him a criminal conviction.”

As the school summer holiday period is soon to be upon us, parents now need to be aware of this ruling before making the decision to take their children out of school early to avoid the price hikes; if the holiday is unauthorised, a penalty fee is now, more than ever, likely to be imposed. As a result of this landmark ruling, even a high attendance rate is not enough to warrant a holiday taken during term time.

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