Planning to take your children on holiday during school term time? Here’s what you need to know
It’s that time of year again, where up to 1 in 6 parents will take their children out of school during term time, to go on a family holiday. Opinion remains divided on this fiercely debated topic.
The previous position
Head Teachers at state schools in England previously had authority to grant up to two weeks’ term-time holiday for pupils with good attendance. However, regulations introduced in 2013 curtailed this discretion, leading to a surge in fines for unauthorised absences imposed on parents by local authorities.
The current position
Currently, you can only take your child out of school during term time if:
- you make an application to the Head Teacher in advance (as a parent the child normally lives with)
- there are exceptional circumstances
It’s up to the Head Teacher how many days your child can be away from school if leave is granted.
In 2015, Jon Platt, from the Isle of Wight, took his daughter out of Primary school for a week to Disney Land without the Head Teacher’s permission. Mr Platt was fined £60 which was subsequently increased to £120 for non-payment. Mr Platt then faced prosecution for failing to ensure his daughter’s regular attendance at school.
Magistrates accepted Mr Platt’s argument that despite missing a week of school for a holiday, his daughter had ‘regular attendance’ over the course of the year, with an attendance rate of over 92% and decided that he had no case to answer. When this was put to appeal, the High Court agreed that Magistrates had been entitled to consider school attendance outside of the term-time absence.
Mr Platt’s case was later referred to the Supreme Court (the UK’s highest court) in April 2017 which overturned these earlier decisions. The main issue in dispute 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”.
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 to the rules. Not to do so is unfair to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the costs or inconvenience to themselves.”
The Department for Education also confirmed that ‘Children only get one chance at an education and evidence shows that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs.’
Mr Platt was given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £2,000.
The decision does not change the legal position but it does make it clear that parents in England can be fined if their children miss school without the agreement of the Head Teacher, except for reasons such as illness or family bereavement.
At present, the government continues to resist the urge to regulate the travel industry and the price hikes during the school holidays. As it stands, parents are therefore in a hugely unfair position of having to accommodate up to a 60% price hike during school holidays, in order to strike a balance between education and family life. Furthermore, in circumstances where the individual Head Teacher has flexibility to make the decision, this can create an anomaly whereby parents may get permission from the Head Teacher at Primary school for their younger children, but their application may be rejected by the Head Teacher at the secondary school for their older children, despite both schools being in the same local education authority.
The number of children being taken out of school during term time continues to rise which may suggest that fining parents is entirely the wrong route and does not act as a deterrent, particularly in circumstances where the fine is substantially cheaper than booking the corresponding holiday during the school holidays.
For further advice contact Lianne Payne, Head of Employment:
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Askews Legal LLP – Solicitors Coventry.