Taking your child out of school – still a criminal offence?

16th May 2016

Taking your child out of school – still a criminal offence?

As any parent will testify, booking a holiday outside of term time is usually a very expensive exercise. 

The cost of a family vacation 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. This happened at a time when it was already becoming much more difficult to obtain authorisation for a term time holiday, whatever the reasons.

However, a recent High Court ruling could pave the way for alterations to the law, after a father refused to pay a fine he had been issued for taking his daughter away in term time.

Jon Platt, 44, took his daughter to Disney World in Florida in April 2015. Her school, on the Isle of Wight, had refused permission for the trip but Mr Platt took her anyway and she missed seven days of lessons.

After refusing to pay the fine, Mr Platt was prosecuted by Isle of Wight Council for failing to ensure that his daughter attended school regularly, contrary to section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.

Mr Platt successfully argued there was no case to answer as the prosecution had failed to show that the child did not attend regularly. Despite the holiday, Mr Platt said her attendance remained above 90% – the threshold for persistent truancy defined by the Department for Education.

Isle of Wight Council then asked the High Court to clarify whether a seven-day absence amounted to a child failing to attend regularly – but their challenge was dismissed by Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall who ruled that the magistrates were entitled to take into account the “wider picture” of the child’s attendance record and did not simply have to look at the period specified in the summons. For instance, if the period specified was ten days and the absence was seven days that would amount to only a 30% attendance.
The effect of the ruling is that the court is entitled to look at, perhaps, the whole academic year or at a whole term of attendances.

Their decision could have an impact on thousands of parents. According to local authority data, almost 64,000 fines were imposed for unauthorised absences between September 2013 and August 2014.

A spokesman for the Department for Education confirmed the government would “look at the judgement in detail”, adding: “Children’s attendance is non-negotiable so we will now look to change the law.”

The argument over term time absence will rumble on. Those like Mr Platt who advocate the freedom to take their children out of school say the benefits of a family holiday outweigh the effect of missing lessons.

But the government says there is clear evidence that “every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chance of gaining good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances”.
We would be interested to know your views on this controversial topic…

How can Gotelee solicitors help?

Despite the High Court ruling, the law remains the same – unauthorised school absence is a criminal offence and parents 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 211121 or email info@gotelee.co.uk.

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