There has been extensive media coverage of Isle of Wight Council v Platt case and there are now reports that term-time holiday bookings have increased. Despite the ruling, parents should still be cautious about term-time holidays. The DfE are maintaining that children’s attendance at school is non-negotiable and that their policies in relation to school absence is clear and correct. The DfE are now also looking to change legislation and strengthen statutory guidance.
The High Court recently upheld the magistrates’ decision that Mr Platt had not committed a criminal offence by taking his child out of school for seven days in term-time for a holiday, finding that the magistrates were entitled to take into account the wider picture of the child’s attendance. The judgement has now been published.
The Court’s conclusion was that “The magistrates were bound to consider whether there was regular school attendance in the light of all the evidence including the school’s record of attendance”. Therefore the magistrates did not err in law in taking into account attendance outside the offence dates when determining the attendance of the child.
The judgment explains that before the holiday, the child’s attendance was 95% and afterwards it was 90.3%. The local authority’s documents indicated that attendance of 90-95% was deemed as satisfactory.
In terms of the current legal framework, Section 144(1) of the Education Act 1996 states “If a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at the school, his parent is guilty of an offence“. Section 444(1A) also states it is an offence where a parent knows that the child is failing to attend school regularly and fails to cause the child to do so. Of course there are exemptions to these offences, for example, absence due to sickness or religious reason.
The law therefore does not specify the number of days that constitutes ‘attending regularly’ and whether or not regular attendance depends on the pattern of attendance or just the number of days.
Each case will turn on its own facts, so parents should still be cautious about booking term-time holidays and this decision cannot be seen as a legal endorsement of any term-time holiday.
More guidance and changes to legislation is anticipated so watch this space.
Some see the high court ruling as opening the way for parents to take their children out of school so long as they have a good attendance record. The decision has prompted the Department for Education to look again at policy with regard to term-time absences. The case has generated huge interest and is likely to give rise to similar challenges. The Guardian’s report on the court ruling drew nearly 3,000 comments from readers, including many teachers and governors questioning the wisdom of the law.