Father speaks out after term-time holidays are outlawed by Supreme Court

Father who brought case criticises judges' interpretation of previous rulings

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The Independent Online

Parents have been told: you must not take your children out of school for holidays during term time. 

The Supreme Court has upheld the Government’s appeal on a case involving a child who was taken to Florida during the school term, saying: “Any educational system expects people to keep the rules.”

The event at the heart of the case involves Jon Platt, a 46-year-old company director from the Isle of Wight. He sought permission to take his daughter to Florida during term time. The head teacher refused. Mr Platt took her anyway. 

The judgment in Court 1 took only a few minutes. Speaking immediately afterwards, Mr Platt expressed bitter disappointment at the judges’ interpretation. He told The Independent: “What they effectively did was overrule a judgment from 1969 and a 2006 case on which I was entitled to rely.”

Until 2013, head teachers in England were able to grant up to two weeks a year for family holidays in “special circumstances”. But the then-Education Secretary Michael Gove, cracked down on parents taking children out of school during term-time, imposing fixed-penalty fines of £60 for unauthorised absences.

Package holiday prices typically double when schools are out. A week before the late-May half term, the cheapest Thomson holiday from Manchester to Mallorca costs £226 based on a family of four; the cheapest a week later is £461, an increase of 104 per cent.

Rises in air fares tend to be more extreme, with prices multiplying three, four or even five-fold. The evening flight on easyJet from Gatwick to Barcelona on Saturday 20 May for a family of four costs just £132 one way. A week later, the price for the same seats on the same plane rises to £663 — over five times higher.

Mr Platt was issued with a fixed penalty but refused to pay it. He was taken to court under the 1996 Education Act, but magistrates dismissed the case. The Isle of Wight Council sought clarification in the High Court, with the support of the Department for Education.

In the High Court, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones upheld the magistrates' view that Mr Platt's daughter's overall attendance record was satisfactory and he had no case to answer. 

His judgment implied that parents need only demonstrate “regular attendance” of at least 90 per cent of school days. With a typical academic year involving 190 school days, the ruling suggests that 19 days of absence is acceptable – corresponding to almost four weeks.

The Government supported the Isle of Wight Council’s appeal to the highest court in the land.

The Supreme Court ruled on a narrow point of law: whether a child's overall attendance at school should be taken into account when deciding whether a parent has committed an offence by allowing their child to be off school.

Giving her judgment, Lady Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court 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 of 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.

“Any educational system expects people to keep the rules. Not do so is unfair to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the cost or inconvenience to themselves.

The Department for Education said: “Every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil's chance of gaining good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.”