Dad wins term-time holiday court case

Jon Platt

Image caption

“I am hugely relieved,” said Mr Platt, speaking outside the High Court after the hearing

A father who refused to pay a £120 fine for taking his daughter on an unauthorised term-time holiday has won a High Court ruling in his favour.

Magistrates had ruled that Jon Platt had no case to answer as, overall, his daughter had attended school regularly.

Isle of Wight Council had asked the High Court to clarify whether a seven-day absence amounted to a child failing to attend regularly.

The government says it will now consider making alterations to the law.

“We will look at the judgement in detail but are clear children’s attendance is non-negotiable so we will now look to change the law,” said a spokesman for the Department for Education.

“We also plan to strengthen statutory guidance to schools and local authorities.”

Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall dismissed the council’s challenge, ruling that the magistrates had not “erred in law” when reaching their decision.

They ruled that the magistrates were entitled to take into account the “wider picture” of the child’s attendance record outside of the dates she was absent during the holiday.

“I am obviously hugely relieved,” said Mr Platt, speaking outside court after the ruling.

“I know there was an awful lot riding on this. Not just for me but for hundreds of other parents.”

Jonathan Bacon, leader of Isle of Wight Council, said he was disappointed the ruling had failed to clarify the definition of attending school “regularly”.

Mr Bacon said that government guidance had been that it meant attending every school day, but added: “Today’s ruling may be taken to imply that parents can take children out of school on holiday for up to three weeks every year.

“This will clearly have a detrimental affect on the education of those children,” he argued.

‘Tougher regulations’

Since 2013, tougher government regulations have meant head teachers can only grant leave of absence to pupils during term time in “exceptional circumstances”.

Term-time holiday: What are the rules?

According to local authority data, almost 64,000 fines were issued for unauthorised absences between September 2013 and August 2014.

Many parents complain that the cost of going away in the school holidays can be four times as much as during term time – but the government says there is clear evidence “that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chance of gaining good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances”.

Florida holiday

Mr Platt, 44, took his daughter to Disney World in Florida in April 2015

Her school, on the Isle of Wight, had refused permission for the trip but he took her anyway and she missed seven days of lessons.

Mr Platt was issued with a £60 fixed penalty fine.

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Parents argue that term-time holidays are cheaper than ones taken in school holidays

After he missed the payment deadline, the council doubled the fine to £120 which he also refused to pay.

Isle of Wight Council then prosecuted him for failing to ensure that his daughter attended school regularly, contrary to section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.

Mr Platt successfully argued there was no case to answer as the prosecution had failed to show that the child did not attend regularly.

Even with this and other absences, Mr Platt maintains her attendance remained above 90% – the threshold for persistent truancy defined by the Department for Education.

Image copyright
Christopher Furlong

Image caption

The government says regularly missing lessons can harm pupils’ chances of getting good qualifications

The magistrates heard that the girl had also been removed from school earlier in the year for an unauthorised holiday by her mother, from whom Mr Platt is divorced, so her attendance record for the year was only just above 90%.

However, the February absence was not part of the council’s case against Mr Platt.

At the magistrates’ court, Mr Platt argued that it was not a crime to remove a child from school for a holiday.

The question was whether the child had failed to attend regularly and the act does not define “regularly”.

‘Pivotal’

The magistrates asked the High Court: “Did we err in law in taking into account attendance outside of the offence dates… as particularised in the summons when determining the percentage attendance of the child?”

Mr Platt, originally from Northern Ireland, crowdfunded £25,000 to cover legal costs and earlier described the £13,000 he has so far paid as “money well spent”.

Craig Langman, chairman of the Parents Want a Say campaign against the term-time holiday ban in England, called the court case “a pivotal moment”.

Dad wins term-time holiday court case

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