CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Guardian
Justices at UK’s highest court uphold fine imposed on Jon Platt for taking his daughter out of school for unauthorised break
The supreme court has upheld the ban on parents taking their children out of school for family holidays during term time, the Guardian reports.
In a unanimous decision, the justices upheld a fine imposed on a father for taking his daughter out of school for an unauthorised seven-day break in April 2015.
Teachers and parents across the UK have watched the dispute between Jon Platt and his local education authority, Isle of Wight council, carefully. Platt successfully challenged the council’s original £60 fine last year.
Delivering the judgment, the deputy president of the supreme court, Lady Hale, said: “Unauthorised absences have a disruptive effect, not only on the education of the individual child but also on the work of other pupils.
“If one pupil can be taken out whenever it suits the parent, then so can others…Any educational system expects people to keep the rules. Not to do so is unfair to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the costs or inconvenience to themselves.”
At issue was the meaning of the words “fails to attend regularly” in section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996. The court ruled that “regularly” did not mean “evenly spaced” or “sufficiently often” but instead “in accordance with the attendance rules”.
Regulations introduced in 2013 curtailed the ability of headteachers at state schools in England to grant up to two weeks’ term-time holiday for pupils with good attendance.
That led to a surge in fines for unauthorised absences imposed on parents by local authorities, and complaints from families seeking to avoid the higher cost of travel during school holidays.
The appeal by Isle of Wight council was heard by five justices at the supreme court in January this year. Platt has refused to pay the fine. The case against him will now be returned to the local magistrates court, where his plea of having no case to answer will be rejected.
His lawyers had argued that Platt’s daughter had attended school regularly because the school register recorded her attendance at 92.3%.
Speaking outside the supreme court after the judgment, Platt said he would fight against paying the penalty notice when the case returned to the magistrates court.
The ruling meant parents would no longer be the final arbiter of what was right for their children, he said. “The case has to go back to the Isle of Wight magistrates. I have no intention of pleading guilty to this offence,” he added.
Platt said the supreme court had overturned not only earlier decisions in his case but also landmark rulings made by the high court in 1969 and 2006.
“The decisions of the high court judges in 1969 and 2006 informed [my] decision,” he explained. “I have just been told that I was wrong to rely on those decisions…The consequences of this decision can only be described as shocking.
“To attend regularly no longer means to attend frequently, it now means to attend on all the days and at all the times that the school requires it. Every unauthorised absence, including being a minute late to school, is now a criminal offence.”
Platt urged parents to vote in the forthcoming local elections to unseat councillors who pursued a hard line in fining parents.
Hale said the high court had “clearly been worried about the consequence that a single missed attendance without leave or unavoidable cause would lead to criminal liability. However, there are several answers to this concern.
“First, there are many examples where a very minor or trivial breach of the law can lead to criminal liability. It is an offence to steal a milk bottle, to drive at 31mph where the limit is 30mph or to fail to declare imported goods which are just over the permitted limit.
“The answer in such cases is a sensible prosecution policy. In some cases, of which this is one, this can involve the use of fixed-penalty notices, which recognise that a person should not have behaved in this way but spare him a criminal conviction.”
Prime Minister Theresa May said: “What the supreme court has done is endorse the current position, which is right, which is that we recognise – and they’ve recognised – the importance of children being in school and getting the most out of their education but also recognise that there may be exceptional circumstances where a child needs to be taken out of school during term time and it’s right that the individual headteacher has that flexibility to make that decision. I think that is the correct balance.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are pleased the supreme court unanimously agreed with our position: that no child should be taken out of school without good reason. As before, headteachers have the ability to decide when exceptional circumstances allow for a child to be absent but today’s ruling removes the uncertainty for schools and local authorities that was created by the previous judgement.
“The evidence shows every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.
“We will examine the judgment carefully and will update schools and local authorities as soon as possible so they are clear what the judgment means for them.”
Councillor Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people’s board, said: “Today’s ruling 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 headteachers 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 judgment. I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the department to ensure further clarity is provided for all involved.”
Patrick Campbell, a solicitor at the law firm Simpson Millar, said: “The government has previously resisted the urge to regulate the travel industry and the [holiday time] price hikes faced by parents. It remains to be seen whether this will now be revisited but I firmly hope that it will. As it stands, parents are in a hugely unfair position of wanting to give their children valuable experiences while juggling budgets that can’t always accommodate 60% price hikes during school holidays.”
Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said he had “some sympathy” for Platt.
He said: “Parents generally do all they can to keep children in school and teachers want them to do that. However there will be occasions when families will have a planned holiday in term time – this can be for a many reasons such as family commitments or parents unable to take leave in the school holidays.
“Fining parents is entirely the wrong route to be going down. Many parents will be able to afford the fine and it will not be a deterrent.
“This is yet another example of top-down measures being imposed on schools causing unnecessary tensions between head teachers and families.”