Supreme Court backs council over dad's term time holiday fine

Gavel

THE SUPREME COURT has upheld a council's decision to fine a father for taking his daughter on holiday during the school term.

Isle of Wight Council had appealed after the High Court ruled last year that Jon Platt was unfairly fined for the unauthorised week-long holiday because his daughter's overall school attendance was good at over 90 per cent. It followed a magistrates court hearing, which ruled Mr Platt had no case to answer.

However, five Supreme Court judges backed the council. The Education Act 1996 states that a parent is guilty of an offence if a child of compulsory school age "fails to attend regularly". The court ruled that "regularly" means "in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school".

In her judgement, Lady Hale said allowing parents to take children out of school has a "disruptive impact" on not only the education of the individual child but also other pupils.

The ruling means the case will be sent back to the magistrates court.

Mr Platt was originally fined £60 by the council, which doubled to £120 after 21 days. Under the law, he then faced prosecution and potentially a maximum fine of £2,500 or up to three months in prison.

Figures from the Press Association show there were 19,920 prosecutions of parents for truancy in 2016, up from 16,430 in 2014. Fines were issued in 11,493 cases, averaging £176, and eight resulted in jail sentences.

The Department for Education, which has previously claimed it is a myth that missing a short period of school has no effect on a child's education, welcomed the court's ruling.

"Our position remains that children should not be taken out of school without good reason," a spokeswoman said.

"That is why we have tightened the rules and are supporting schools and local authorities to use their powers to tackle unauthorised absence."

The Local Government Association has criticised the DfE's blanket ban on term time holidays and has called for headteachers to be allowed to make "common sense" decisions on a case-by-case basis. 

Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the LGA's Children & Young People Board, said: "Today's ruling by the Supreme Court provides further clarity but it is important that the Department for Education works with schools and councils to avoid any further doubt about the law. What is needed is certainty for parents, teachers and councils so that head teachers have the confidence to approve or reject requests for term-time leave in the best interests of pupils.

"The guidance provided to schools needs to be urgently updated to reflect the judgement. I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the department to ensure further clarity is provided for all involved."