Term time holidays: a victory for parents or badly drafted law?

Term time holidays: a victory for parents or badly drafted law?

Today (13th May 2016), The High Court upheld an original Magistrates’ Court ruling in favour of John Platt, a parent who removed his daughter from school for a seven day holiday.

The Magistrates had earlier ruled that, as Mr Platt’s daughter had a good record of attendance, the Local Authority had no ground for bringing a prosecution under Section 444 (1) of the Education Act 1996, seeking to allege that Mr Platt had failed to ensure his child had attended school regularly.

The High Court ruled that the Magistrates were perfectly entitled to take into account the child’s full attendance record.

The law

The Education (Penalty Notices) (England) Regulations 2007 came into force in September 2013.

Before then, a headteacher could grant a leave of absence, or holiday, for up to ten days during term time and, in ‘exceptional circumstances’, for extended periods.

The initial idea behind this provision appears to have been to allow families who may find it difficult to take holidays in normal term time, perhaps those employed in the agriculture industry etc., to be allowed to take holidays in term time.

The changes were introduced as it was felt that parents were regarding the removal of children from schools as a ‘right’. Not something that should only be done if there were special circumstances.

The changes made by the Government were to remove all reference to any permission to take family holidays. And headteachers were only allowed to approve absence of pupils from school during term time if there were exceptional circumstances.

Local authorities were encouraged to impose a fixed penalty fine of £60 if it was thought a child had been wrongly removed from school. This can double to £120 if parents don’t pay within 28 days.

In this case, Mr Platt didn’t pay the fine so the local authority sought to prosecute.

Interestingly, the Regulations don’t apply to public schools.

What this means for you

Parents whose children have a good attendance record at school may once again consider they have a right to remove their children from school for a holiday in term time.

However, this recent High Court ruling doesn’t automatically mean that local authorities are barred from bringing prosecutions against parents who may remove their children for a holiday.

This case highlights the need for laws to be properly drafted. Rather than the courts siding with a view that parents should be permitted to take children on holiday during term time.

The Regulations don’t clearly define what would constitute regular attendance, or rather what would not.

Also, there’s little definition as to what would constitute ‘exceptional circumstances’, and again what would not.

What’s now likely to happen is that the existing Regulations will be redrafted, so there are clear definitions.

Although redrafting may take some time, Mr Platt’s victory may be short-lived.

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