Term Time Holidays and High Court Victory for Parents
Like so many other parents today, Jon Platt decided to take his daughter out of school during term-time, for their annual holiday to Disney World. This resulted in her missing seven days of school and Mr Platt being presented with a £60 fine from the Isle of Wight Council, which was doubled to £120 after he refused to pay.
Mr Platt was subsequently charged under Subsection 1, of Section 444 of the Education Act.
What is the law around Term Time Holidays?
Before, looking at Jon's Case, let's just look at the Law on 'Term Time Holidays'.
This depends on where you live and whether your child attends a state or private school. There are different Laws governing schools in England, Wales and Scotland. Consider reading our comprehensive guide on 'Term Time Holiday and The Law'.
Jon's daughter attends a state school in the Isle of Wight and therefore is governed by English Law. In England, Section 444 of the Education Act states that your child must goes to school "regularly", but with no clear definition of what "regularly" actually means.
The Department for Education believes that "regularly" means a child going to school every single day, except for authorised absences such as illness. Importantly it defines persistent truancy as attendance falling below 90% however this is guidance that is provided to councils and not something that is legally binding.
What did the Local Magistrates Court decide?
Jon's refusal to pay the fine was supported by his local magistrates court where he used the wording of the Education Act to successfully argue he had no case to answer for.
The Magistrates approach which was to look at the "bigger picture" and consider the child's attendance record. On the face of it this would seem to be a common sense approach enabling families to have that quality family time together balanced with having a high commitment to ensuring that their child/children get a full education, with "regular" attendance being demonstrated.
Jon's success in the local magistrates court triggered the council to submit an appeal to the high court in an attempt to have the decision overturned.
Did the High Courts rule in favour of Jon or the local council?
Mr Platt won his case as the High Court ruled in his favour. Thursday 12th May 2016 marked a significant turning point for parents and term-time law. His High Court victory resulted in not only his fine being over turned but his legal costs being paid by the council.
After successfully defending himself at the initial hearing, Mr Platt enlisted a solicitor and during the high court appeal hearing he focused on section 444 of the Education Act 1996 and in particular that parents should ensure that their children attend school 'regularly'. The 90% plus attendance record for his daughter was used to demonstrate that his daughters attendance at school was indeed "regular" and that missing seven days school was not in breach of the law. He also stressed that the law does not state that parents cannot take their children on holiday during term time. Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall ruled that the magistrates were fully entitled to have taken into account the attendance record of his daughter, thereby looking at the bigger picture and thereby taking a common sense approach.
What happens next?
Unfortunately, the High Court did not define what "regular attendance" actually meant and it is therefore expected that as a result of Mr Platt's win, the Department of Education will re-write the current legislation to tighten up on this now deemed, 'loop hole' in the law. Whilst It is thought that the Department of Education could now tighten the rules in defining what is mean by "regular" attendance it will be a hotly debated topic amongst MP's with a number of Conservative MP'S already indicating that they would not vote in favour of stricter rules.
So in the meantime, can I just take my kids out of school without being fined?
Some LEAs, such as Devon County Council, have decided that they will not issue any more fines until they get further guidance from the Department for Education, but fines for unauthorised absences during this period could still be issued at a later date. As for other LEA's who knows.
What happens if I get a fine?
Whether you like it or not, taking your child out of school during term time is detrimental to the child' s education however if you insist on doing so then refusing to pay the fine is your decision.
If you decide not to pay the fine and your child has a good attendance record, you could follow in the footsteps of Mr Platt and it is likely that the High Court ruling would add weight to your case. If the circumstances are similar, you could win the case but there is no guarantee. The consequences of losing the case could be a fine of up to £2,500 or even a three month in jail.
Alternatively, if you have saved money on the cost of your holiday you may just prefer to pay the fine.
If I have already paid a fine does the High Court ruling mean I can reclaim what I paid?
Mr Platt's case has had such high profile media attention, it will no doubt see more parents challenging fines issued where the child has good attendance but if you have already paid the fine, what can you do?
Circa 86,010 fines were issued in 2014/2015, so what can you do if you have already paid a fine.
Because the High Court Judges only ruled on Jon's individual case and there was no clear ruling on the definition of regular attendance it is unlikely you will get your money back. Local Councils will be reluctant to set precedent however you could try either;
Writing to your Local Education Authority - if your child has a good attendance record that is over 90%, you could ask them to review your case in light of the recent High Court ruling. We would suggest doing it yourself. It will not cost you anything and whilst you are unlikely to succeed, who knows.
Taking your LEA to the small claims court. This can be time consuming and expensive. Ask yourself whether it is worth the risk for a £60 or £120 fine. If you win you will certainly have a few more friends.
The topic of Term Time Holidays isn't going away and we await further clarification from the Department of Education. The responses amongst parents to the outcome of Jon's case seem to be mixed so the debate continues. Watch this space for a further update....
Some responses on the Term Dates Facebook Page
"Have ministers not got more important things they should be doing, rather than fining parents who take their own kids on a holiday, who usually have good attendance! "
"Amazing how the government keeps stating that losing even one day can have a serious effect on a child's education but think nothing of taking over the schools for polling days".
"As a teacher and a support worker in school my family couldn't even afford a caravan holiday when I looked. £800-£1000 for four days in some areas. But then I know how disruptive it is to a child's education and a teacher delivering lessons for a child to miss school. Holidays companies should not be allowed to hike up prices!"
"This guy has not done parents or teachers any favours."
"So are they will be tightening the law rather than listening to common sense and reason?"