If you take your children on holiday during term time without permission from the headteacher, you should prepare to face prosecution.
That’s the ruling of the Supreme Court, which today delivered its verdict in a landmark legal battle involving a father who refused to pay a £120 fine after taking his six-year-old daughter on a week-long break to Disney World.
The judges ruled that Jon Platt, a businessman from the Isle of Wight, should pay the fine for his daughter’s unauthorised absence and accused him of showing a “blatant disregard of school rules”.
The council prosecuted Mr Platt after he refused to pay a £120 penalty for taking his daughter on holiday without permission from the school. Magistrates agreed with Mr Platt’s argument, deciding there was no case to answer.
The authority took its case to the High Court in London – but two judges upheld the magistrates’ decision and declared that Mr Platt was not acting unlawfully because his daughter had a good overall attendance record of over 90 per cent.
They said the magistrates were entitled to take into account the “wider picture” of the child’s attendance record outside of the dates she was absent on the holiday. The decision caused a surge in term-time bookings.
Today though, the Supreme Court rejected that view and ruled in the council’s favour.
Reading out the court’s verdict, Lady Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, said: “The Supreme Court unanimously allows the Council’s appeal, declaring that the word ‘regularly’ means ‘in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school.”
What are the rules?
As any parent will testify, booking a holiday outside of term time can be a very expensive exercise. The cost of a family holiday rockets during the school holidays – sometimes by up to 400% – as travel firms cash in on the surge in demand.
It used to be the case that parents could ask schools for permission to take their children away during the academic year and such requests were often granted. But in 2013, the then-Education Secretary Michael Gove tightened the rules, imposing fixed-penalty fines of £60 for unauthorised absences, rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days.
The new rules said headteachers could only grant leave in “exceptional circumstances”. Previously, school leaders were able to approve leave of up to 10 days for “special circumstances”.
According to local authority data, almost 64,000 fines were imposed for unauthorised absences between September 2013 and August 2014.
How can Gotelee solicitors help?
While the argument over term time absence will rumble on, today’s ruling means there is no doubt where parents stand on this issue: unauthorised school absence is a criminal offence and those who flout the rules can expect a fine.
To find out more or for advice if you have received notification of a fixed penalty for unauthorised absence, get in touch with our team on 01473 298140 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.