Campaigner questions thousands of parent fines being issued in Leeds

Jon Platt outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Photo:  Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Jon Platt outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
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A LEADING campaigner has suggested thousands of parents in Leeds could challenge fines for term time holidays if they can prove their child regularly attended school

Jon Platt won a landmark victory earlier this year when magistrates and a High Court rejected the Isle of Wight Council’s attempt to prosecute him over a family trip to Florida.

Now he has criticised Leeds Council for issuing around 8,000 fines in the last three years for parents taking children out of school on holiday.

However the authority has insisted it was simply following the law and was awaiting Government guidance following the recent High Court case.

Mr Platt, from the Isle of Wight attracted national attention after he successfully refused to pay a council fine for taking his daughter on holiday because his daughter did have a good attendance record.

In the last three years 8,600 fines have been issued to Leeds parents for taking holidays of which around 700 have been withdrawn, according to figures obtained by Mr Platt himself

He has submitted Freedom of Information Requests to councils to ask about the level of fines being issued.

Mr Platt has described the Leeds figures as outrageous. He also criticised the City Council because the figures it has provided showed that the vast majority of fines issued were specifically for parents going on holiday.

Mr Platt said: “In reality this is what most councils are doing but the way that Leeds have presented their figures confirms that they are issuing fines for children going on unauthorised holidays - but an unauthorised absence is not a criminal offence. If these parents in Yorkshire have children who regularly attended school and yet were fined they should challenge them.”

However Leeds City Council has defended its stance.

The authority’s director of children’s services Nigel Richardson said: “We believe, and always will do, that the best place for children to be during term time is in school. We have always encouraged parents to think twice before booking holidays during term time as children with poor attendance tend to achieve less well in both primary and secondary school. Neither we nor our schools have any choice but to abide by the law, which changed in September 2013.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that any fine we issue is in line with our code of conduct and we follow statutory guidance from the government.

“We will continue to support schools and parents to ensure that children attend school regularly and benefit from taking a full and active part in daily school life.

“We anticipate further clarification from the Department for Education following the Isle of Wight case earlier this year.”

Mr Platt is urging the Government to rethink its position on fines. He said he has contacted the new Education Secretary Justine Greening about the issue . After Mr Platt’s legal victory in May, which is now set to be challenged in the Supreme Court, Schools Minister Nick Gibb wrote to schools saying: “The High Court’s judgment did not establish a hard and fast rule that a pupil’s attendance above 90 per cent is regarded as ‘regular’ attendance. Instead, a decision will have to depend on the individual facts of each case.”

He added: “We understand some parents who have already been given penalty notices and have paid the penalty are asking local authorities to withdraw the notices. However, the view of the department is that the decision in the Isle of Wight case does not require local authorities to do this, and I would expect applications of this kind to be refused in the ordinary course of events.”

The ruling does appear to have caused a drop in the number of fines being issued in some parts of Yorkshire.

In Kirklees the number of fines issued dropped from 326 in July last year to 145 this although the council said that it had not changed its position.

North Yorkshire has also seen a large drop in fines with 258 issued last summer compared with 29 this. The authority confirmed it has changed its approach and was now only issuing fines where a child had missed more than ten per cent of school through unauthorised absence.

It is unclear whether this pattern is being followed in Leeds with fines dropping sharply in April this year compared with last but then increasing in both May and June this year compared with the numbers issued in 2015.

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