Legal Matters with Jeremy Scott: Know the risk of term time holidays

Everyone would agree it is in the interests of children to attend school regularly.

Wednesday, 3rd August 2016, 3:20 pm
Updated Wednesday, 3rd August 2016, 4:24 pm
Grandparents day, multi generational family on the beach

In fact parents have a legal duty to ensure this and if they fail to do so they commit a criminal offence.

However, as parents who are taking children on holiday over the next five or six weeks will be aware, the cost can be three times more than in term time.

Equally, if important learning is taking place during a child’s school absence, it can affect a child’s development and success.

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In 2013, tougher government regulations were issued. Headteachers were given the power to authorise absences in term time in ‘exceptional’ circumstances but in most cases this does not include a family holiday.

Following the introduction of these regulations almost 64,000 fines are imposed for unauthorised absence each year. They are £60 each, rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days. Where parents fail to pay the £120, LEAs can prosecute parents for failing to ensure regular attendance.

This can result in a fine of up to £1,000 together with payment of the legal costs of the LEA.

Jon Platt ended up in this position when he took his six-year-old daughter on an unauthorised term time holiday to Florida. He refused to pay the £60 and then the £120. The LEA prosecuted him in the magistrates’ court for failing to ensure regular attendance.

Mr Platt argued that his daughter had in fact attended school regularly, taking into account the whole of the school year, and won.

On May 13 2016 three judges in the High Court considered an appeal brought by the LEA, but agreed with the magistrates. So where does this recent decision leave us? The legal position remains that headteachers can only authorise term time absences in exceptional circumstances.

However, before deciding whether to issue a £60 penalty, schools and LEAs must now look carefully at the whole of a child’s attendance record.

This might not be the last word on the issue as the LEA is seeking permission from the Supreme Court to appeal, following the High Court issuing a certificate on June 30 that this is a point of law of general public importance.

The Department of Education has agreed to cover the costs of the appeal.

n Lupton Fawcett’s Education Team acts for universities, colleges and schools nationwide, and recognises that educational institutions have particular needs beyond those of most commercial enterprises.

* Jeremy Scott, head of regulatory at Lupton Fawcett 07971 520407 or [email protected]