PARENTS could face a fine or prosecution if they take their children out of school for even half a day without permission following a landmark ruling by the UK’s highest court.
Five Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled against father Jon Platt who took his daughter to Disney World during school term-time in a decision which will have a major impact on schools and parents across the country.
In a judgment clarifying what “regular” attendance at school means, they allowed an appeal by Isle of Wight education chiefs against an earlier ruling that Mr Platt had not acted unlawfully.
The panel of judges, including the court’s president Lord Neuberger, declared Parliament’s intention was that the word “regularly” means “in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school”.
This effectively means mothers and fathers should not take their child out of lessons at any point without the headteacher’s approval.
The judges pointed out there are exceptions to that rule, which include religious holidays and sickness .
Speaking after the ruling was given, Mr Platt said he was “not at all surprised” at the judgment.
He said: “I’m pleased that they acknowledged the judgment doesn’t go on to say what the school rules should be.
“Schools need to think very carefully about what these rules should be.
“Some have policies that mean that every day missed is a criminal offence.”
Mr Platt’s case now has to return to the magistrates’ court in the light of the ruling on Thursday.
He said he had “no intention” of pleading guilty when the case goes back to the court.
Lady Hale, announcing the decision, emphasised the case was not about what the rules should be “or how much discretion the headteacher should have to authorise absence”.
She added: “That is a matter for the appropriate authorities.”
BACKGROUND: Why is this case so important?
A key High Court finding was that the magistrates who originally heard the case were legally entitled to take into account the daughter’s overall attendance record and not just her lack of ‘’regular attendance’’ during the Florida holiday period.
At a Supreme Court hearing in January, the Isle of Wight council argued a child’s unauthorised absence from school ‘’for even a single day, or even half a day’’ can amount to a criminal offence.
A QC for Mr Platt, described the submission as a new and radical interpretation of the law which was absurd and would “criminalise parents on an unprecedented scale”.
The action is being closely watched by parents across the country.
• What are the current rules?
In the autumn of 2013, there was a major crackdown on absence, including term-time holidays.
New rules were brought in, which said headteachers could only grant leave in “exceptional circumstances”. Previously, school leaders were able to approve leave of up to 10 days for “special circumstances”.
Fines for unauthorised absence were also increased in 2013, with parents now incurring a penalty of £60, rising to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days. anyone who fails to pay within 28 days can face prosecution.
Ministers have argued that children must be in school every day, and that every extra day of school a child misses can affect their GCSE results.
• How many children are currently missing school for holidays?
Figures published by the Department for Education last month showed that around a million schoolchildren missed lessons last year after taking family trips during term time.
About one in six pupils in England took at least a half day off for a trip in the 2015/16 academic year with the vast majority doing so without getting permission from the headteacher.
Overall, there were 801,980 pupils in England’s state primary, secondary and special schools (11.9%) with one or more sessions (half days) of absence due to unauthorised family holidays, and 223,080 students (3.3%) with at least one missed session due to agreed family breaks.
There are no overall figures on the numbers of parents handed fines for taking children out of school, but figures previously obtained by the Press Association showed that in the 2014/15 academic year, at least 50,414 penalty notices were issued due to children being taken out of lessons for trips.
This was up 25% on the year before, when at least 40,218 penalties were given out, and up 173% from the 18,484 fines handed out by local authorities in 2012/13. These figures cover 71 councils that provided data for all three years.