Defender of Parents’ rights or Enemy of the State?

As any parent will know, booking a holiday outside term time can be an expensive business, whether or not you plan to travel abroad.  A recent judgment has put the issue in the spotlight once again.

In what could be a landmark case with wide-ranging impact, the High Court has upheld an earlier decision that Jon Platt, the Isle of Wight father who took his child on holiday during school term, had no case to answer against the Isle of Wight Council (“the Council”) for unpaid school absence fines.

In April 2015, Mr Platt was issued with a £60 fine for taking his six year old daughter out of school for six days to go on holiday. The school’s Head Teacher refused to grant authorised absence and, instead of paying the compulsory fine of £60 (rising to £120 on non-payment), Mr Platt chose to fight the case in Court.

Mr Platt was prosecuted under Section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996 (“the Act”), which states that a parent is guilty of an offence if their child does not attend school ‘regularly’.

He successfully defended the case by arguing that the Council had failed to show that his daughter had not attended school regularly. Even with the holiday and other absences, Mr Platt maintained that her attendance remained above the 90% threshold for continual truancy.  The decision was appealed by the Council.

At the heart of the case was a lack of clarity in the Act.   The word ‘regularly’ is not defined, and there is no guidance as to how it should be interpreted. Parents and schools are left to work it out for themselves.

The Court upheld the original decision and ruled that Mr Platt’s legal costs (which he had covered through a crowdfunding campaign – see our earlier blog on the subject here) had to be paid by the Council.

Mr Platt has been hailed as a hero by some, with one travel company stating that term time holiday bookings are up by 88% due to the ‘Platt effect.’  It is likely that schools might view things differently.

The Department for Education (“DfE”) says that children’s attendance at school is “non-negotiable” – children who miss seven days’ school in a year, they say, see their prospects of gaining five good GCSEs fall markedly and if children are regularly missing school teachers have their time diverted from teaching to making sure that a child is able to catch up with the rest of their class.  The DfE says it will now be looking to change the legislation.

The fact that Mr Platt had two other children at a different school with different holiday dates may well mean that he was faced with an unavoidable choice of having to take at least one of them out of school if they were all to spend time together abroad and this does show that these issues are not always as black and white as they seem.  It will be interesting to see what impact this ruling has in the future and, assuming the DfE does what it says it will, just how the legislation is changed.

Phil Gorski

Phil Gorski

Phil Gorski
Solicitor
Commercial Dispute Resolution
PGorski@LawBlacks.com
0113 227 9318
@PhilLawBlacks

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