The ‘Term Time Holidays’ Case
The Isle of Wight Council v Platt case is frequently referred to as the ‘term time holidays’ case. It has been widely covered by the media and the facts of the case are generally well known.
Mr Platt asked his daughter’s school for permission to take her on holiday during term time. The school refused but Mr Platt took her anyway. Isle of Wight Council then issued Mr Platt with a £60 fine. Mr Platt refused to pay this and was issued with a further fine. Again, Mr Platt refused to pay and so the matter was put before the magistrates’ court.
The council argued that Mr Platt had failed to secure his daughter’s ‘regular attendance’ at school, contrary to s.444 of the Education Act 1996. Mr Platt argued that his daughter had attended regularly during the course of the academic year (her attendance was 92% prior to the holiday).
The magistrates agreed with Mr Platt and, on appeal, so did the High Court.
Isle of Wight Council took the challenge a step further and appealed to the Supreme Court.
The case centred on the meaning of ‘regular attendance’ when describing the attendance of a child at school. The Supreme Court suggested that ‘regularly’ could mean any one of the following:
- At regular intervals;
- Sufficiently frequently; or
- In accordance with the rules.
Whilst all of the above could be construed to mean ‘regular attendance’, the Court found that, in terms of school attendance - and the provisions of s.444 of the Education Act 1996 - it meant the latter. Some of the key reasons for reaching this decision included:
- The Education Act 1996 requires parents to ensure their children receive “full time” education i.e. for the whole of the time when education is being offered
- A strict interpretation means that everyone ‘knows where they stand’
- A wide interpretation would make the wording too uncertain to constitute a criminal offence
- The disruptive effect of unauthorised absences means that there are clear policy reasons to ensure the full time attendance of pupils.
The court also addressed the issue of criminalising parents for taking their children on holiday:
“there are many examples where a very minor or trivial breach of the law can lead to criminal liability. It is an offence to steal a milk bottle, to drive at 31 miles per hour where the limit is 30, or to fail to declare imported goods which are just over the permitted limit. The answer in such cases is a sensible prosecution policy.”
So, to conclude, “regularly” (as referred to in s.444 of the Education Act 1996) means “in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school”. Whilst many parents will be unhappy with the ruling, it at least provides clarity for parents, schools and local authorities alike.
For more information contact Laura Thompson.