School’s Not Out: Supreme Court Rules on Term Time Holidays

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School's Out

Yesterday’s ruling by the Supreme Court, which brought to an end a high profile case relating to term time holidays, will be of interest to parents of school age children.

Jon Platt requested permission from his daughter’s head teacher to remove her from school in order that she could attend a holiday during term time. This permission was refused, but Mr Platt went ahead and his daughter did not attend school for a period of seven days.

Initially, Mr Platt was issued with a fixed penalty notice (as an alternative to prosecution), which he declined to pay, and so he found himself appearing before the Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court. The Magistrates decided that Mr Platt had no case to answer, but the Council appealed and a course of litigation began.

What did the Supreme Court decide?

The argument concentrated on what ‘regularly’ means in the context of school attendance. The Court decided that the correct interpretation of ‘regularly’ means ‘in accordance with the rules.’

Lady Hale delivered the lead judgment and noted that “…..unauthorised absences have a disruptive effect…..

“......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 costs or inconvenience to themselves.”

 What does this mean for parents?

The ruling confirms that a school’s own rules must be adhered to in relation to term time holidays. The school itself has the authority to decide if a pupil is attending regularly.

Parents will still need to obtain permission from the head teacher for their child to miss school- and they will face action if they fail to do so.

Attendance is seen by OFSTED as a ‘limiting factor’ and head teachers may be conscious that a greater number of absences can affect a school’s overall profile.

 What else was of note?

In her comments, Lady Hale urged a ‘sensible prosecution policy’ by councils, pointing out that it is an offence to steal a milk bottle, or drive at 31mph in a 30 mph zone- but a prosecution should not necessarily follow.

The case has brought about renewed clamour in the media for holiday operators to end their tendency to charge higher rates during school holidays, with the counter argument that this may result in increased costs for other holiday makers as a result. It remains to be seen if any change will result, though this seems unlikely.

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