Holidays in term time

The media has covered - at some length - cases of parents who take their children out of school during term time and are subsequently prosecuted for doing so.  But is there any certainty for schools in knowing how the law applies?

The outcome in the case of the Isle of Wight Council v Platt (2017) depended entirely on the meaning of the word ‘regularly’ as it appears in section 444 of the Education Act 1996.  The section states that if a child fails to attend school ‘regularly’, a parent will be guilty of a criminal offence and can be prosecuted unless they pay a penalty notice.

Mr Platt took his daughter on a one-week holiday during term time, despite permission being refused by the school for him to do so.  The school referred the matter to the local authority, which issued a penalty notice.  Mr Platt refused to pay in accordance with the notice and was therefore prosecuted in the magistrates’ court.

The magistrates, and then the High Court, ruled that he had no case to answer, as Mr Platt’s daughter had an attendance record of between 90% and 95%, even including this one-week unauthorised holiday, and therefore it could not be said that his daughter’s attendance was not regular.

However, the local authority appealed the High Court’s decision and the case reached the Supreme Court.  It decided that a parent would commit the offence of their child failing to attend school ‘regularly’ if the child fails to attend in accordance with the rules prescribed by his or her particular school. 

This decision does raise the question of whether every local authority will now produce its own set of guidelines, which will invariably differ across the country.  If that were to happen, would parents be criminalised in certain areas of England and Wales more than in others? 

In summary, the result of this judgment is that a parent will be guilty of a criminal offence if they take their child out of school to go on holiday during term time without authorisation, even if the child's level of attendance is otherwise excellent.

Our Education law Solicitor Thomas Emmett is based in our Basildon Office. For any queries call him on 01245 453847, or alternarivley email him on thomas.emmett@birkettlong.co.uk. 

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.