The recent court victory of Mr Jon Platt, who refused to pay a £120 fine for taking his seven year old daughter on holiday to Disney Land during term time, could enable other parents to do the same thing going forward.
Mr Platt was told that his daughter’s absence would be unauthorised and was given a £60 fine which then doubled to £120 when he failed to pay it quickly. He then continued to refuse to pay the fine and was subsequently taken to Court by the Council.
Mr Platt was forced to take the family holiday to Walt Disney World in Florida during term time as there was no other date when all of the family were available.
The Government had recently cracked down on unauthorised absences from school telling head teachers that they can no longer authorise absences for holidays during term time.
The legislation in regards to children being absent from school falls under Section 444 of the Education At 1996 and states: ‘If a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at the school, his parent is guilty of an offence.’ There a number of exemptions to the rule – for example, pupils are allowed to miss school in order to observe religious holidays.
When Mr Platt requested the absence for his daughter her attendance at the time was 100% and, even after the holiday her attendance for the year was 94%. Mr Platt argued that because the only days of school his daughter missed came during their eight day holiday, she was still attending school ‘regularly’ and he had therefore committed no offence. Mr Platt who has 50/50 custody of his two children stated that ‘I have 50% of their life growing up, so I’m going to take them on spectacular holidays if I want to’.
A point to be noted, in respect of taking a child abroad, is that in order to take a child abroad you must have the permission of everyone who holds parental responsibility for the child and that taking a child abroad without this permission is child abduction.
Many child focussed holiday destinations such as Florida, Lapland, Europe, the Greek Islands and the Canary Islands are more expensive to visit during school holidays making them unaffordable for most families. A seven night all-inclusive package for a family of four to Tenerife would cost £2561 on 3 August but only £1662 on 12 September. Even the cost of holidaying within the UK can increase – for example, a five-day break for a family of four to Centre Parcs went from £349 at the beginning of February to a whopping £859 in the Half-Term a week later.
Magistrates decided that taking a child out of school for a week did not mean that they were not attending regularly, and that Mr Platt had therefore not broken the law meaning that other parents could now rely on the same argument to escape being fined. This case does not set a legal precedent, but campaigners suggested that it could help other parents fight back against over-zealous local authorities. Legal experts warned that Councils will still be able to pursue parents over their children’s absences, but suggested Mr Platt’s case shows that schools do not have a free hand to impose fines in every case.
It seems that the law at the minute is unclear and that the term ‘regular’ can be interpreted quite widely meaning that this may need to be clarified within the legislation going forward otherwise more cases similar to that of Mr Platt my find themselves within the Court arena.
Michelle Silcox, Legal Assistant