Government plans to change term-time holiday law

The government will look to change the law on term-time holidays, after the high court backed a father who took his daughter to Disney World during the school term and refused to pay the fine.

The ruling opens the door to other parents taking their children out of school for holidays, and raises difficult questions for local authorities, and for headteachers striving to meet government attendance targets.

In response to today’s decision, the Department for Education (DfE) is looking to change the relevant legislation.

A source said: “We will look at the judgment in detail but are clear children’s attendance at school is non-negotiable so we will now look to change the law.”

However the Local Government Association (LGA) stressed the need for a “sensible solution” for families to be able to spend time together, and said it should not require a “family tragedy” for children to be granted leave during term-time.

Jon Platt took his seven-year-old daughter on a family holiday to the theme park in Florida last April, which resulted in her missing six days of school.

Isle of Wight council issued him with a £60 fine, which was doubled to £120 after he refused to pay.

In October, magistrates ruled there was no case to answer, shortly before he was due to face trial.

Platt argued that his daughter’s school attendance did not contravene section 444 of the Education Act, which requires that parents ensure their children attend school “regularly”.

But the local authority appealed against the decision at the High Court in London. Today, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall dismissed the council’s challenge, ruling that the magistrates had not “erred in law” when reaching their decision.

The two High Court judges ruled that the magistrates were entitled to take into account the “wider picture” of the child’s attendance record outside of the dates she was absent during the holiday.

After the ruling, Mr Platt said outside court: “I am obviously hugely relieved. I know that there was an awful lot riding on this – not just for me but for hundreds of other parents.”

Earlier, Mr Platt said the court case had cost him £13,000, which he described as “money well spent”, since he was fighting the principle that he should not be criminalised for taking his child out of school.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the High Court judgment. The evidence is clear that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chance of gaining good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances. 

“We are confident our policy to reduce school absence is clear and correct.?

“We will examine today’s judgement in detail but are clear that children’s attendance at school is non-negotiable so we will now look to change the legislation. We also plan to strengthen statutory guidance to schools and local authorities.”

An LGA spokesperson said: “It shouldn’t be that a tragedy has to befall a family for a child to get leave during term-time. There are many more joyous and positive occasions in life when consideration should be given to granting leave requests, such as a wedding or perhaps a sporting event involving a family member. These can have social and emotional benefits which are of lasting value and support to young people.

“And there are just times when a family should be able to come together to celebrate without worrying about prosecution or being fined.

“Blanket bans do not work and as today’s High Court ruling shows, it’s a system that is not always enforceable. We want to work with the Government to find a sensible solution whereby every family has the option to spend time together.

“While councils fully support the Department for Education’s stance on every child being in school every day, there are occasions when parental requests should be given individual consideration and a common sense approach applied.”

A government spokesperson stressed that today’s high court ruling should not affect the way headteachers currently make decisions on absences.

The government’s current attendance target for primary and secondary schools is 95 per cent.

Heads are required to classify absences as authorised or unauthorised, and since September 2013 are only allowed to authorise them in “exceptional circumstances”.

Headteachers cannot issue fines, but attendance information is passed to the local authority, which is also the fining authority.

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Pupils are expected to attend school as close to 100 per cent of the time as possible and they should not miss school to go on holiday.

“This is because even short periods of attendance can have a detrimental impact on their education so consistent attendance is absolutely vital. We are a nation which values education and school attendance is part of that commitment.

“The current rules do give discretion to head teachers in exceptional circumstances and whilst there has been some rise in Fixed Penalty Notices in recent years the vast majority of parents are fully onside and recognise the importance of high attendance.”

The National Association of Head Teachers has previously issued advice on what constitutes an authorised absence, but did not wish to comment on the current court ruling until the government issued further advice.

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  1. Amanda

    There should be flexibility. I don’t agree with the blanket statistics that time off equals lower grades. There is more to consider. For example I have a child that visits CAMHS, Speech & Language therapist, Dyslexic Clinic, Communication Specialist and Bowel and Bladder team. Every appointment is important to my child and has a major influence on how he is educated, but every appointment is marked as an authorised absence. These appointments alone are enough to drop us below 95%. SHOULD WE BE PUNISHED FOR SORTING PROFESSIONALS TO HELP HIM LEARN??? If he gets sick we are forced to have 48 hours off after the last episode that’s another 4 absences or 1% on top of the initial sickness. A GREAT IDEA TO PREVENT OTHERS GETTING SICK BUT NOT IF YOU WANT TO COMPLY WITH THESE STATISTICS! Once we go over the 93% we receive a letter threatening to check up on us even though copies of each appointment has been submitted. I have been asked in the past to take my child to school sick and arrive every 4 hours to give medicines, he has been pale, tired and vacant unable to absorb any information spreading germs to his peers. SURELY NOBODY CAN BELIEVE THIS IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO FOR HIM OR HIS EDUCATION BUT REQUIRED FOR THE SAKE OF THE STATISTICS!

    These things should not count we should not be punished for medical appointments and sickness.

    There are times in the school term where every school slows down for the holidays watching videos, playing games. AGAIN IF ONE OF THESE GREY DAYS WERE MISSED WOULD IT REALLY HAVE AN IMPACT ON MY CHILDS EDUCATION??? Schools organise trips anything from 1 day to 3-5 days away with their class mates for bonding. WHAT ABOUT BONDING WITH YOUR FAMILY THE ONES THAT LOVE AND CARE FOR YOU? TRADITIONAL FAMILIES SO LONG FORGOTTEN ALONG WITH MORALS. FAMILIES WILL BE THEIR FOR THE REST OF OUR CHILDRENS LIVES NOT JUST THIS SCHOOL OR THAT SCHOOL YEAR. We have been present for the start, middle and end. We are the people our children need to bond with, that they need to trust and depend on. The ones that will unconditionally provide essentials just because we love each other. If we are close then the government need not worry if we become jobless we will not need to claim job seekers, we will never be homeless because we will always make room, make bad decisions we will resolve them together, or just live, have babies and help care for them whilst we all work or simply get old and need care. Because if we are close – a true family we will look after each other we ‘The families’ are the ones that need to BOND this is PART OF OUR CHILDRENS EDUCATION NOT SECONDARY TO IT!

    I propose you mark in your calendars the grey days including those school bonding sessions and you allow those days for family bonding. You only count unauthorised absences for your 95% statistics so that sickness and hospital appointments are not a punishment against the disabled.

  2. Saira

    Yes we need holidays during term time coz in term off time travelling expenses ( tickets) are very expensive and we can’t take our kids to anywhere mostly but as a responsible parent I know kids should be taken out during term time , council cargoes me as well £240 for two kids and we paid coz even after paying fine it was cheap to take kids out for 10 days on holidays during term time, rest of whole year my kids never skip school even a single day.
    And council take exceptional case only when parents died nothing else , so as a parent I would prefer to take my kids for holidays during term time coz it’s still cheap, because kids need such a nice family time as well for their growth n refreshing them as well,
    Government should allow few holidays during term time without fine ….

  3. Sheena

    Tell me what children do in year 6 after SAT’S are over…..the remainder of the term rehearsing for the final stage production .. the last week of Xmas term having parties & so many other days & weeks not learning & certainly doing nothing I couldn’t do myself at home. ..countless hours in assembly son going to see Gangsta Granny…with school..sooo educational…but if i took him during the school day , as they are doing it would be unacceptable…so many unproductive hours within the school term..disastrous GCSE attainment couldn’t ever be down to poor quality provision ??? Just take a look at Homeschooling attainment to see it’s not quantity bit quality that counts

  4. Alan Gadney

    Blood boiling….this ruling is for democracy… can it be that a government can decide whats best for our children.

    They say every day at school is vital…So why is it schools have days to the beach, farm, lake , river etc, etc …What about when qualified Teachers are off sick and replaced by an unqualified stand in?

    This government needs to look at itself …in its attempt to criminalise hard working parents.

    Family time is vital and the wellbeing of the child is vital….

  5. However the law is changed or guidance clarified, I think we have accept a modest level of term-time leave if children are otherwise good attenders. It was never the intention of the legislation that parents with over 90% attendance for their children would get a conviction. There is a real danger that the really serious absence cases are being overlooked in favour of the easy targets and this is just causing unnecessary confrontation with perfectly reasonable parents.

    • John Spriggs

      Absolutely right Ben.
      It’s always been my contention that the fines are nothing more than a money making scheme – the genuine, caring parents who make sure their kids usually attend are easy targets.
      The serious cases are often ‘problem’ families who don’t care and haven’t got any money so there’s no point pursuing them.
      The local authority closed my children’s school for two days this year to use it as a polling station. There’s a church hall, just up the road, which they could probably have hired. But they would have had to pay for that, so they closed the school to save a few quid.
      Talk about hypocrisy.

  6. I have two grown up children and when they were young their father worked really long hours and holidays were a time for us all to bond as a family but we could not have done this in school summer holidays due to ridiculous prices and Europe being too hot, so if there were no exams we took them out of school.
    They each attended Birmingham Uni and have good professions, absolutely no harm done.
    These rules are about statistics set up to check long term non attenders but yet again they impact on the easy targets hoping this will raise attendance levels.

  7. jason pinnell

    my daughter has a 100% record in her 1st year we want to take her out in her 2nd year for 1 week as i work in schools during summer holidays and can’t get the time off

    Declined is not a good enough reason

    family time and culture and learning is better for a 6 year old than painting and drawing
    mosts days waiting to be fined ?

  8. John Spriggs

    The DfE are clearly deluded!

    Their spokesperson claims that ‘The evidence is clear that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chance of gaining good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.’

    The statement is clearly absurd.

    An average child, with average attendance, will spend approx. 2000 days in school from when they start reception to the time they take their GCSE’s. So the DfE’s crucial ‘extra day’ is 1/2000 of the total school time.

    Seismic effect that’s going to have isn’t it?

    I wouldn’t mind betting that it is statistically impossible to measure the effect that ‘1/20 of 1%’ of the input will have on a subjective output such as a GCSE grade, which is measured in whole %age points.

  9. Paula

    Its a stupid rule that gives children from poorer families a disadvantage ( which is the opposite of what they say they are trying to do) due to it being so expensive in the holidays, it also causes a problem for resorts and Airports because they are overly congested due to huge numbers of people being bullied into only going away in school holidays. No common sense at all.
    A child who has usually good attendance should be allowed one authorized holiday per year, no more than 5 days consecutively unless it is a special occasion or once in a lifetime trip that will benefit the child and broaden their horizons but this should be judged independently as it is a lot for a child to miss more than one week a year for no valid reason.
    exam years being exempt could also be something to consider as no sane parent should be taking a GCSE student off on holiday just ‘because’.

    All of this is just sensible common sense allowing flexibility but not allowing ‘willy Nilly’ absence or negligence because parents ‘can’t be bothered’ to send them in, it also allows ALL children the opportunity to experience different cultures ‘first hand’