Supreme Court rules against term-time holidays for pupils

18 Apr

Jon Platt, a parent living in the Isle of Wight, lost his long-running battle in the Supreme Court on 6 April 2017 with the Council to take his daughter on a seven-day trip to Disney-land in Florida, USA. He had contested the Council’s £60-fine imposed following her absence.  He had argued that his daughter had had a good attendance record leaving parents such as he free to take their children on term-time holidays.

The High Court had backed his case but referred the matter to the Supreme Court.  The Government fought him in that arena, fearing that if he won it would open the floodgates for other parents/carers to make mayhem of their children’s school attendance.

In delivering the Supreme Court’s judgement of her four colleagues and herself, 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 and their teachers.

“If one pupil can be taken out whenever it suits the parent, then so can others. Different pupils may be taken out at different times, multiplying the disruptive effect.

“Parliament is unlikely to have found it acceptable that parents could take their children out of school in blatant disregard of the school rules, either without having asked for permission at all or, having asked for it, been refused,” she added.

“This is an approach to rule-keeping which any educational system can be expected to find acceptable.  It is a slap in the face to those obedient parents who do keep the rules.”

Mr Platt had argued that his daughter had a 90.3% attendance record at the time of his request to take her to Florida in April 2015 – evidence that she attended “regularly”.  However, the five judges disagreed in their interpretation of the meaning of “fails to attend regularly” in the Education Act 1996, stating that the pupil’s attendance should be “in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school”.  They dismissed Mr Platt’s case that the phrase should mean “sufficiently frequently”. At any rate, 90.3% attendance is way below the national average of 95.5%.

The DfE has taken a tough but reasonable line on this issue which plagues local authority schools up and down the country.  A total of 801,980 pupils missed at least half-a-day’s schooling because of family holidays in 2015/16 and local authorities issued over 50,000 fines to parents for colluding with their children on this issue in 2014/15.

The Department for Education commented on the judgement as follows:

“As before, headteachers have the ability to decide when exceptional circumstances allow for a child to be absent but today’s ruling removes the uncertainty for schools and local authorities that was created by the previous judgement. We will update schools and local authorities as soon as possible so they are clear what the judgement means for them.”

Pupils in academies are not subjected to the same restrictions as those in local authority, voluntary aided and voluntary controlled schools.  The upshot is that 2,121 secondary academies – i.e. 62% of the state secondary sector – and 3,749 primary academies will have greater latitude allowing pupils to holiday in term time, because they are not covered by the 2013 legislation.

The Times Educational Supplement reported that Andy Brown, Chief Executive of the Ad Astra Academy Trust has caused his governors to agree terms where pupils from deprived backgrounds can take term-time holidays.  Accordingly, Brown will authorise term-time holidays for children of a family on benefits if they have a strong attendance records.  (Many will express shock and horror that a family on benefits should be holidaying in this manner at all.)

Meanwhile, while case law has blown away the clouds on the moot issue of pupils’ school attendance, it will leave parents of pupils in LA schools with the problem of finding it financially prohibitive to take their children away during the school holidays.   But then, is it such a bad thing to holiday at home?

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