ggMr Jon Platt.


A father who refused to pay a fine for taking his daughter out of school for an unauthorised holiday to Disney World has been backed by a high court ruling that will open the floodgates to similar challenges.

The decision throws into uncertainty the government’s efforts to take a strict line against term-time holidays in state schools in England. The Department for Education (DfE) tightened its regulations on unauthorised absences in 2013, prompting the widespread introduction of financial penalties for unauthorised term-time absence.
But the ruling will be greeted with enthusiasm by campaigners who have been lobbying against the stricter rules, which removed the leeway previously allowing headteachers to authorise up to two weeks’ term-time holiday a year for pupils with good attendance records.

The Isle of Wight local authority had sought to impose a fine on Jon Platt for taking his daughter out of school for seven days, on the grounds that the Florida holiday did not meet the DfE’s rules allowing authorised absences only in “exceptional circumstances”.

Platt challenged the council’s attempt to impose a £120 penalty, and was backed by a local Magistrates court. The council then appealed to the high court.

Platt argued that his daughter’s attendance record met the requirement of section 444 of the Education Act, that parents ensure their children attend school “regularly”. He also argued that the law did not place restrictions on parents taking their children on holiday in school time.

Julie Robertson, a solicitor who has represented parents who have faced legal action over term-time holidays, said: “Parents are obliged to ensure that their children attend school regularly. But this concept is not clearly defined in case law or laid out in any statutory provision.

“As it stands, the local authority must prove beyond doubt that a parent has failed to secure regular attendance – taking into account the child’s academic attendance record as a whole. In the past, I have found local authorities a little quick to issue fines without having considered the child’s academic record first.”

The DfE maintains that, when added to absences for illness and other authorised reasons, continued unauthorised abscences can seriously affect a child’s education.

“It is a myth that missing school even for a short time is harmless to a child’s education,” a DfE spokesperson said after the initial decision involving Platt.

“Our evidence shows missing the equivalent of just one week a year from school can mean a child is significantly less likely to achieve good GCSE grades, having a lasting effect on their life chances.”