Term-time holidays: Supreme court rules father must pay fine for taking daughter out of school

Justices overturn High Court decision after claims it raises important issues over what constitutes 'regular attendance' at school

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The Independent Online

A father who refused to pay a £120 fine after taking his daughter to Disney World during term time has lost his legal battle at the Supreme Court.

Jon Platt was prosecuted by the Isle of Wight Council after he refused to pay a penalty for taking his daughter on a seven-day family trip to Florida in April 2015 without the school's permission.

Local magistrates initially found there was no case to answer, and two High Court judges in London later upheld the decision, declaring Mr Platt was not acting unlawfully because his daughter had a good overall attendance record of over 90 per cent.

But judges ruled on Thursday that regular attendance had to be in keeping with rules of the school, after the council urged that it raised important issues over what constitutes “regular attendance” at school.

They said the magistrates should take into account the “wider picture” of the child's attendance record outside of the dates she was absent on the holiday.

The ruling rejects Mr Platt's argument that despite missing a week of school for a holiday, his daughter had regularly attended school over the course of the year, with the justices saying said parents would have to comply with the rules set by schools and education authorities.

In her judgment, Lady Hale said that if parents were able to withdraw children whenever they wanted there would be an unacceptably “disruptive effect” on lessons.

Following the judgment, Mr Platt said the ruling had reversed "decades of judicial precedent" in a move he described as "shocking", adding that it meant a child being a minute late to school "is now a criminal offence".

“The Supreme Court has just reversed decades of judicial precedent. They didn't just say that the High Court judge who heard my case... misinterpreted the law, they have concluded that the earlier High Court decision from 2006 and one from 1969 were also wrong in their interpretation of the law," Mr Platt said.

“Be in no doubt, despite the judgment, I followed the law precisely laid down and interpreted by High Court judges in two separate cases. They told me that to attend 'regularly' was to attend very frequently.

“So I decided not to pay a £60 penalty notice because my daughter had otherwise perfect attendance at school. With this judgment those precedents have been swept away and the consequences can only be described as shocking.

“(Regularly) now means to attend on all the days and at all the times that a school requires it. Every unauthorised absence, including being a minute late to school, is now a criminal offence.”

Gillian Graveson, partner at Birchall Blackburn Law and head of family law for the firm’s seven offices said the ruling was significant, commenting: “While I am not surprised at today’s ruling, as a parent myself I think a common-sense approach should be applied.

"This ruling makes it clear that if a parent refuses to pay a fine for allowing their child to be absent from school without permission even for a single day, they could face a prosecution. This will affect parents across the country, many who have already made holiday bookings. 

“If a child has a great attendance throughout the year, is missing a couple of days at the end of term really going to have a huge impact on their education?”

In response to the ruling, Councillor Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court provides further clarity but it is important that the Department for Education works with schools and councils to avoid any further doubt about the law.

"What is needed is certainty for parents, teachers and councils, so that head teachers have the confidence to approve or reject requests for term-time leave in the best interests of pupils. 

“The guidance provided to schools needs to be urgently updated to reflect the judgement. I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Department to ensure further clarity is provided for all involved.”