Column by Jeremy Scott, head of regulatory at Lupton Fawcett.
Everyone would agree that it is in the interests of children to attend school regularly.
In fact parents have a legal duty to ensure this and if they fail to do so they commit a criminal offence.
However as parents who took their children on holiday over the six weeks school break will be aware, the cost can be two to three times more than holidays during term time. Equally, if important learning is taking place during the term time absence, this can affect a child’s long term development and success.
In 2013 tougher government regulations were issued which gave head teachers discretionary power to authorise absences in term time in exceptional circumstances. In most cases this does not include a family holiday.
Following the introduction of the regulations almost 64, 000 fines were imposed for unauthorised absences each year. The fines are £60 each, rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days. Where parents fail to pay the £120, then LEA’s can prosecute parents for failing to ensure regular attendance. This can result in a fine of up to £1, 000 together with payment of the legal costs of the LEA.
Jon Platt ended up in precisely this position when he took his six-year-old daughter on an unauthorised term time holiday to Florida. He refused to pay the £60 and then the £120. The LEA prosecuted him in the magistrates’ court for failing to ensure regular attendance. Mr Platt argued that his daughter had in fact attended school regularly taking into account the whole of the school year and won. On May 13 2016 three judges in the High Court considered an appeal brought by the LEA against the magistrates’ decision, and agreed with the magistrates.
So where does this recent decision leave us?
The legal position remains that head teachers can only authorise term time absences in exceptional circumstances. In most cases, a family holiday will not amount to an exceptional circumstance.
However, before deciding whether to issue a £60 penalty, schools and LEA’s must now look carefully at the whole of a child’s attendance record.
This might not be the last word on the issue as the LEA is seeking permission from the Supreme Court to appeal, following the High Court issuing a certificate on June 30 2016 that this is a point of law of general public importance. The department of education have agreed to cover the costs of the appeal.