Massive drop in Yorkshire councils issuing holiday fines after landmark court case

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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THE NUMBER of parents being fined for taking their children on term-time holidays has plummeted in much of Yorkshire this summer with one of the largest education authorities relaxing its policy as a result of a landmark court case.

Figures from North Yorkshire, Sheffield, Doncaster and Kirklees show massive drops in the fines being issued between May and July this year compared with 12 months ago.

In Sheffield the level of fines has dropped from 900 in June last year to three this year and North Yorkshire County Council said it had suspended issuing fines unless pupils were missing more than 10 per cent of lessons.

Campaigner Jon Platt won a high court case earlier this year after refusing to pay a fine for taking his daughter to Florida during the school term.

The Government toughened its stance three years ago and said schools should only approve absences in exceptional circumstances. This has led to the number of parents being fined for term time holidays rocketing in recent years

However Mr Platt, from the Isle of Wight refused to pay his fine and when he was taken to court successfully argued that he had not committed an offence because his child had still attended school regularly despite the holiday. The High Court backed this decision but the council is now appealing to the Supreme Court.

He said he is now campaigning to stop schools and councils “attempting to criminalise parents for taking a holiday.”

He has since submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to councils to see what impact the court’s decision has had on the number of fines being issued.

They reveal massive drops in the number of fines issued during the summer in several areas of the region.

In Sheffield the council issued 900 fines in June 2015. But, according to figures from the authority this year it issued just three - a drop of more than 99 per cent.

In Doncaster the number of fines issued dropped from 616 in July last year to 61 and in Kirklees it more than halved from 326 to 145.

In June and July last year North Yorkshire issued 258 fines but this year it dropped to 29.

The council has said it changed its stance on issuing fines following High Court ruling. It has suspended the issuing of penalty notices for unauthorised absence “if a child’s school attendance is 90 per cent and above in the preceding six months, including any holiday.”

“This marks a change in our position,” said Pete Dwyer, North Yorkshire’s corporate director for the Children and Young People’s Service.

“Previously we followed Government guidance which stated that term-time absence could only be authorised in exceptional circumstances, which did not include holidays. If an absence was not authorised by the school this automatically triggered a penalty notice. Following the ruling we are now waiting for further guidance from the DfE on this matter.”

Kirklees Council said its policy had not changed.

Mr Platt said: “The crux of this is that the Government guidelines in 2013 changed the burden on headteachers who could no longer approve absences apart from in exceptional circumstances. But they did not change the burden on parents. Taking a child on an unauthorised absence is not a criminal offence - failing to make sure your child attends regularly is.

“If the Government wants to make every unauthorised absence a criminal offence they will have to legislate to do that.

Damian Allen, Director of Learning Opportunities and Skills, said: “Regular attendance at school is very important for every child. Doncaster Council will continue to promote the importance of regular school attendance to all parents and where appropriate issue Fixed Penalty Notices and take court action. Following the Platt court judgement, we took time to seek and clarify Department of Education advice and we are now issuing fines in line with the guidance given.

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