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Applications for term-time absences rise after High Court ruling: research

Nearly one in three school leaders (31%) have reported an increase in the number of applications for term-time absences since a landmark High Court ruling in May this year, a survey by law firm Browne Jacobson has found

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The report, in partnership with the Association of School and College Leaders, also revealed that:

  • 42% of primary school leaders reported an increase in applications, compared to 30% for secondary schools.
  • 83% of school leaders said the judgment had had no effect on the number of applications they had granted.
  • 67% stated the case had had no effect on the number of parental fines issued as a result of breaches. Only 18% said the number of fines they had issued had decreased.

The High Court ruling in May involved a bid by the Isle of Wight Council to enforce a £120 fine imposed on Jon Platt after he took his daughter to Florida in April 2015. The girl missed seven days of school.

Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall ruled in favour of Platt, saying that magistrates had not erred in law when rejecting the local authority’s attempt to enforce the fine.

In July the council said it would be applying to the Supreme Court seeking leave to appeal, after the High Court refused permission.

The decision to apply to the Supreme Court for leave followed a formal request for the council to do so from the Minister of State for Schools. The Department for Education insists that schools must only authorise term-time holidays in exceptional circumstances.

The Browne Jacobson survey, which was completed by 941 school leaders and can be viewed here, found that 94% of respondents were dissatisfied with the government’s funding of schools, of which 74% were very dissatisfied – a rise of 35% on the 2015 survey.

The report said three quarters (75%) of leaders felt negative when asked about the impact the government’s education policy was having on their schools compared to 12 months ago. Only 9% of leaders were positive.

A significant majority of respondents (78%) meanwhile said they had not faced any significant difficulties in implementing the government’s Prevent Duty.

Of those that did, more than half (58%) cited the use of the term ‘British values’ as opposed to just ‘values’ as particularly challenging. More than one third found it difficult identifying quality training for staff (40%) and managing the added workload created by the duty (37%).

The survey also covered school leaders’ views on their priorities and the government targets for the study of modern foreign languages.

Nick Mackenzie, education partner at Browne Jacobson, said: “It is clear that school leaders up and down the country are facing a real cash crisis and the decision to delay implementation of the new funding formula means many schools are living on a financial knife-edge.

“We are already seeing some schools in the country seriously considering shortening the teaching day or going to a four-day week. Others are looking at alternative ways of reducing costs, including cutting back on staff, increasing class sizes, collaborating with other schools to reduce central spends, scaling back curriculum offers, and exploring new and innovative ways to generate income.

“The Chancellor’s failure to allocate further resources to schools in his Autumn Statement whilst earmarking £50m to support the expansion of grammar schools may be seen by many school leaders as a real kick in the teeth as they struggle to make ends meet.”

Malcolm Trobe, Interim General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The planned funding formula will hopefully make the funding system fairer and ease some of the pressure on the most poorly funded schools.

“However, it is important to understand that it will not address the fact that the overall level of education funding is not sufficient.

“Schools are facing real-term cuts of at least 8% because of extra costs. The situation in 16-19 education is particularly serious because this sector also suffered severe cuts in the last parliament.

“Education is a vital investment. It provides the country’s intellectual infrastructure; the knowledge and skills which will enable us to remain globally competitive. We simply must improve funding for schools and colleges to achieve our aspirations for the future.”