Jon Platt case: School leaders welcome Supreme Court term-time holiday ruling

Jon Platt faces prosecution for taking his daughter out of school without permission for a trip to Disney World in 2015

Parents could face a fine or prosecution if they opt to take their child out of school for even half a day without permission, following a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court on term-time absences.

A panel of judges ruled unanimously against Jon Platt, a father from the Isle of Wight who took his daughter on holiday to Disney World during school time in April 2015.

His case has divided opinion, prompting calls for stricter policies on school attendance as well as fairer peak-season pricing from holiday companies.

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Responding to the ruling on Thursday, school and college leaders welcomed the judges’ decision, claiming term-time holidays place unfair pressure on teachers who are required to help absent children catch up with important work.

Malcolm Trobe, Interim General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders said: “It is vitally important that children attend school as close to 100 per cent of the time as possible.

“Research clearly shows that even short breaks can have a detrimental impact on educational attainment. Holidays should be taken in the 13 weeks that are allocated for that purpose each year, not in term time.

“We were pleased that the Supreme Court also highlighted the fact that children missing school can be disruptive. Teachers have to help these children catch up and the more pupils who are absent the greater the disruption”.

In a judgment clarifying the meaning of “regular” attendance at school, the panel allowed an appeal by Isle of Wight education chiefs against an earlier ruling that Mr Platt had not acted unlawfully.

They said 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.”

His case will now return to the magistrates’ court, where Mr Platt said he has “no intention” of pleading guilty.

Commenting on the ruling, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “What the Supreme Court has done is endorse the current position, which is right, which is that we recognise – and they’ve recognised – the importance of children being in school and getting the most out of their education but also recognise that there may be exceptional circumstances where a child needs to be taken out of school during term time and it’s right that the individual headteacher has that flexibility to make that decision. I think that is the correct balance.”

Almost 20,000 people were taken to court for failing to ensure their child went to school in 2015, data obtained by the Press Association revealed this week.

The number of prosecutions has risen steadily since the Department for Education introduced stricted rules as part of a crackdown on pupils absences in 2013.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said removing children from school during term-time created “chaos” in the classroom.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, she said: “I completely understand the difficulties that working parents face – I did myself as a single mum.

”But it’s really, really important that we set that principle that actually children should attend school in term-time.

“There are exceptional circumstances, there is discretion at the moment.

”But if all parents took their children out of school in term-time because it was cheaper to get a holiday that way, then it would be chaos in our schools and it would affect all children.“

Green Party officials said they “condemned” the decision, however, suggesting that fining parents was at best unproductive and at worst a classist act.

Vix Lowthion, teacher and Green Party education spokesperson, said: “We all want our children to have excellence attendance – but fines and prosecution are not the best way to ensure this.

“The Conservative Government is obsessed with formal, high stakes testing and believes that education can only take place in the classroom… there is no flexibility allowed whatsoever.

Calling for the policy to be brought to Parliament for debate, she added: “Instead of attacking parents’ choices, this Government should be enacting legislation against holiday companies who ramp up prices in school holidays well beyond the reach of ordinary families. They should be seriously looking at regional, flexible term times to spread holidays across a wider variety of weeks and welcoming opportunities for our young people to get out of the confines of the classroom and learn from the exciting experiences they have when away from home.”

The National Union of Teachers agreed there were “better alternatives” to fining parents, and said there needed to be better flexibility on the issue.

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the union, said he had “some sympathy” for Mr Platt.

“Fining parents is entirely the wrong route to be going down,” he said. “Many parents will be able to afford the fine and it will not be a deterrent. This is yet another example of top down measures being imposed on schools causing unnecessary tensions between head teachers and families.

Mr Platt, 46, won the landmark case last year after being prosecuted for taking his daughter out of school to go on holiday.

The father of three was fined £60 in April 2015 after her isle of Wight school refused permission for seven days of absence.

After refusing to pay the fine, Mr Platt was charged a further £60 and became quickly embroiled in a row with the council.

The matter was taken to the Isle of Wight Magistrate’s Court in October that year, where Mr Platt won his case, but the local authority appealed the decision to the High Court.

Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall dismissed the council’s challenge in May 2015, ruling that the magistrates had not “erred in law” when reaching their initial decision.

The two judges said the magistrates were right to take into account the “wider picture” of Mr Platt’s daughter’s regular attendance record when they decided he had “no case to answer”.

Mr Platt’s victory was hailed as a “triumph of common sense”, with many suggesting the case would pave the way for other families choosing to take their children out of school during term times.

The case was taken to the Supreme Court after Isle of Wight council appealed the High Court decision.

When the case was heard at the Supreme Court earlier this year, the Isle of Wight local authority argued that an unauthorised absence “for even a single day, or even half a day” could be unlawful.

But Mr Platt’s representatives argued that it was unacceptable to interpret the rules in a way that would criminalise so many parents.

Ministers argue that allowing parents to take children out of school in term-time is disruptive to their learning and caused problems for teachers and the rest of the class when pupils returned and had to be helped to catch up.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Our position remains that children should not be taken out of school without good reason.

”That is why we have tightened the rules and are supporting schools and local authorities to use their powers to tackle unauthorised absence.“

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