Government Considering Changing Law on Term-time Holidays
The Government has indicated that it will look at changing the law after the High Court ruled that Magistrates had been correct when they decided that parent Jon Platt had not breached education laws when he took his daughter out of school for a family holiday to Florida.
Under s444 of the Education Act 1996 a parent is guilty of an offence if their child fails to attend school regularly. Some absences are ignored for these purposes, including where the child is sick, where the absence is for any unavoidable cause or where it is authorised by the school. The local authority can prosecute a parent it considers to be in breach of s444 and if convicted the parent is liable to pay a fine of up to £1,000. Alternatively, the local authority or head teacher may issue a penalty notice if they have reason to believe that an offence under s444 has been committed. If the penalty is paid, the parent will not be prosecuted.
Mr Platt took his six year old daughter out of school for seven days and was issued with a £60 penalty notice, which was doubled to £120 when he failed to pay. He continued to refuse to pay the fine and was prosecuted. He argued that he was not guilty of an offence under s444 Education Act 1996 as his daughter had attended school regularly. In particular, he argued it was necessary to look at her overall attendance record and not just at her seven consecutive days’ absence for a family holiday. Overall, her attendance was above 90%, the threshold for persistent truancy defined by the Department for Education. The Magistrates’ court agreed with him and ruled that his daughter had attended school regularly.
The Isle of Wight local authority appealed to the High Court and sought clarification of whether a seven-day absence amounted to a child failing to attend school regularly. The High Court upheld the Magistrates’ decision, ruling that Mr Platt had no case to answer as, overall, his daughter had attended school regularly. However, it did not provide clarification on what attending school regularly actually means.
Responding to the judgment, a spokesman for the Department for Education said:
"We will look at the judgment in detail but are clear children's attendance is non-negotiable so we will now look to change the law."
"We also plan to strengthen statutory guidance to schools and local authorities."
Statutory guidance for schools currently suggests that penalty notices can be used where the pupil’s absence has not been authorised by the school. This is misleading as they can only be issued where a child has failed to attend school regularly. Schools/local authorities should not therefore assume that they can issue a penalty notice simply because a parent takes a child on holiday during term-time, without the school’s permission. Each case will have to be considered on its own facts and an assessment made as to whether the child is not attending school regularly. It is disappointing that the High Court did not give guidance on what amounts to attending school regularly. Whilst Mr Platt’s daughter had a 90% attendance rate, it does not necessarily follow that anything below that will mean that a child has not attended school regularly or that anything above that will mean that the child is a regular attender. It also unclear over what period attendance should be assessed.
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