Holidays during term time - education & the law

June 17

The issue of term-time holidays has been a bone of contention between schools and parents for years. Some parents have long argued that in order to afford a holiday for their family, it is necessary for them to take time out during the school term because of the significant increase in the cost of their trip outside of term time. The schools, in response, present an equally compelling argument that term-time holiday is disruptive to learning. 

Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 provides that “the parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full time education…either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.” Failure to ensure regular attendance can lead to prosecution of the parent under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996. 

The term ‘regular’ is ambiguous. How can two weeks in the sun fall foul of the term ‘regular’ when a child has otherwise attended school without problem?

The Supreme Court has now provided much needed clarity on this issue in the case of Isle of Wight v Platt [2017] UKSC 28. In this case Mr Platt asked his daughter’s head teacher if he could remove her from school during the term time for a holiday to Florida. It meant that she would miss 7 days of school. The Head Teacher refused this because the circumstances were not ‘exceptional’ by definition. Mr Platt took his daughter anyway and was fined by Isle of Wight Council. He refused to pay a fixed penalty notice and was prosecuted. Mr Platt argued that his daughter attended ‘regularly’ because she had been at school for 90.3% of the year prior to the holiday. The magistrates’ court agreed with Mr Platt. The council appealed to the high court who confirmed that the magistrates court was not wrong but that the term ‘regular’ needed clarification as a matter of public policy.

The council’s appeal to the Supreme Court was upheld unanimously. The court held that the word ‘regularly’ did not mean ‘at regular intervals’ and Lady Hale stated that “unauthorised absences have a disruptive effect, not only on the education of the individual child, but also on the work of other pupils. If one pupil can be taken out whenever it suits the parent, then so can others. Any educational system expects people to keep the rules. Not to do so is unfair to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the cost or inconvenience to themselves.” 

The Supreme Court held that fixed-penalty notices were a sensible approach because they spared the wrong-doer a criminal record but this did not detract from their decision that removing a child from education for the purpose of a holiday is against the law. 

So with the position now clarified for parents, will parliament now look to regulate holiday companies’ pricing in light of this decision? Only time will tell.   

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