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Council fears “massive uncertainty” after judges back parent in holiday row

The Leader of Isle of Wight Council has warned of “massive uncertainty” after two High Court judges ruled against the local authority in its bid to enforce a fine issued to a father who took his daughter on holiday during term time.

Responding to the ruling, the Department for Education said it would seek to change the relevant legislation and strengthen statutory guidance.

Isle of Wight has been seeking to enforce the £120 fine against Jon Platt, who took his daughter – without her school’s permission – to Disney World in April 2015. She missed seven days of school.

In October 2015 magistrates on the Isle of Wight rejected attempts by the local authority to enforce the fine. They accepted Mr Platt’s arguments that s. 444 of the Education Act requires parents to ensure their children attend school ‘regularly’ but does not put specific restrictions on taking them on holiday in term time. Mr Platt said his daughter’s attendance remained above 90%.

The magistrates asked the High Court the following question:  "Did we err in law in taking into account attendance outside of the offence dates... as particularised in the summons when determining the percentage attendance of the child?"

In 2013 government regulations said head teachers should only grant leave of absence during term time in “exceptional circumstances”.

Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall heard the proceedings by way of case stated today (13 May) and it is now being widely reported that they have ruled in favour of Mr Platt.

Commenting on the ruling, Cllr Jonathan Bacon, Leader of Isle of Wight Council, said: "This case was always about seeking clarification on this matter and unfortunately today's ruling has created massive uncertainty and cast a shadow of doubt over the policies of schools and local authorities across the country.

"The Department for Education had outlined what it considered to be ‘regular’ attendance, which was that children should attend school every day, and it is under that assumption that we acted. It is also clear that attendance and educational attainment are intertwined, however today's ruling may be taken to imply that parents can take children out of school on holiday for up the three weeks every year. This will clearly have a detrimental effect on the education of those children, the rest of their class and their teachers.”

Cllr Bacon added: “I'm very disappointed about the failure to give clear guidance today. We need to consider the impact of this on the Island but it is clear it will also have an affect across the country. We will be pressing the DfE to urgently consider creating clear legislation on this matter for the benefit of parents, schools and local authorities alike."

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."

Mr Platt told reporters he was “hugely relieved”. He added: “I know there was an awful lot riding on this. Not just for me but hundreds of other parents.”

Last week it emerged that Swindon Borough Council had failed in a bid to prosecute two sets of parents who took their children out during term time.