A father has won a legal battle over taking his child on holiday during term time, but what does it mean for other parents? Litigator and Associate Director James Wilkes explains.

The High Court has ruled that parent Jon Platt should not have to pay a £120 fine for taking his child out of school because he didn’t breach the law.

According to the judgment Mr Platt, whose daughter missed seven days of lessons after he took her to Florida in April 2015, was not liable for the fixed penalty notice issued by the Isle of Wight Council because overall his daughter attended school regularly.

So what exactly are the current rules and does this new court judgment change anything?

The law as it stands

According to the Education Act 1996 parents must ensure their children attend school ‘regularly’.

Schools have the right to issue fines if parents ignore these rules and, when it comes to taking holidays in term times, Government regulations advise head teachers only to grant permission in “exceptional circumstances”.

However, because there is no statutory definition of what it means to ensure children attend school ‘regularly’ there is confusion over what legal rights parents have when it comes to taking children out of school to go on holiday.

So does this court ruling change anything? Is this case a carte-blanche excuse to take my child out of school during term-time?

There is no clear answer to this question but the court ruling seems to imply that if your child has a 90% or higher rate of attendance for the year (even if this includes time away from class for holidays) you as a parent would not be breaching the law.

And in case you’re wondering – to achieve a 90% attendance rate (below which a child is considered to be persistently truant) your son or daughter could miss up to 19 days of classes over the duration of a typical state school year.

So will I still be fined if take my child out of school without permission?

Yes. But you might not have to pay it. In light of the recent judgement it will be difficult for magistrates to find against parents in similar circumstances as Mr Platt. However, it’s likely you will have to fight your case in the Magistrates Court and this can be expensive – an average of £1,000 – so many parents might consider simply paying the fine.

Is the law going to change?

The Government has expressed its dissatisfaction with the judgement and said it will now consider making alterations to the law because children’s attendance at school, except for sickness and ‘exceptional circumstances’, is non-negotiable.

Whatever changes are made, clear guidance on how ‘attendance’ is calculated will need to be provided.

We can expect the following points to be debated in Parliament.

  1. Does a significant event such as a family holiday not contribute to the development and wider education of a child?
  2. Is the present policy of banning term time absence for family holidays effectively denying some children this experience on account of the extraordinarily inflated costs of holidays during school breaks?
  3. Within reason (and cases of 90% or higher attendance) is it not a matter for a parent to decide what is in the best interest of their child?

These are difficult questions to answer and it’s unlikely any changes to the law will happen quickly.

If you have been fined for taking your child out of school and want more detailed legal advice you can contact James Wilkes on 01483 408 780 or email jwilkes@setfords.co.uk.