This week, a parent is in the highest court in England this week to defend the High Court’s decision not to pay a Council fine for breaching the holiday leave rules during term-time”
The Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations 2006 allowed schools to grant a leave of absence for pupils for up to 10 days for the purposes of a family holidays and for more than 10 days in exceptional circumstances.
However, rather than as a rough guide for schools considering absences during term-time, schools reported that parents believed these regulations conferred a right to take their children out of school for two weeks or more a year for holidays. Consequently in 2013, those rules were amended.
Under the new rules, which came into force in England in 2013, if an absence is declared unauthorised by the School, the Council can fine each parent £60 per child, which doubles to £120 if not paid within 21 days.
The imposition of the rules met with strong opposition on the basis that many families were unable to afford the high cost of trips outside of term-time. Whilst Council’s across England took differing approaches to the issue of fines, between September 2013 and August 2014 almost 64,000 fines were issued.
Owing to the wealth of uncertainty expressed by Councils and Schools as to how the rules should be applied, further guidance was issued by the National Association of Head Teachers for schools when considering an application for authorised absence. That guidance focused on prioritising “learning over holidays” however it noted that there could be no absolute rules on how that discretion is applied.
In 2015 Jon Platt was fined by Isle of White Council for taking his daughter out of school on an unauthorised term time holiday. Mr Platt refused to pay the fine which, as the deadline had passed, doubled to £120.
The Council prosecuted Mr Platt in accordance with section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996 for failing to ensure that his daughter attended school regularly. Magistrates ruled that Mr Platt had no case to answer as his daughter had attended school regularly.
The Council sought clarification from the High Court as to whether a 7 day absence amounted to a child failing to attend school regularly. The High Court considered that it did not and upheld the decision of the Magistrates.
The case has now been referred to the Supreme Court to provide further clarification of what constitutes regular attendance. A decision is expected in early 2017, following which there is likely to be a further attempt by the government to clarify the application of these rules for schools and imposition of fines.
However, as the application of the rules appears to be somewhat discretionary for the school, and the decision as to whether to issue a fine rests with the Council, unless a consensus is agreed nationally it seems there cannot be certainty for either party as to the correct approach.
To find out more about the issues raised in this post, or to discuss any queries regarding school attendance get in touch with our expert Education team or call +44 (0) 161 829 2599.
The information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by berg or any of its partners or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.