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Firm warns of legal action over changes to school non-attendance policies

A claimant law firm says it is considering bringing group legal action on behalf of parents against councils and schools over changes to non-attendance policies for ‘illegal’ term time holidays in the aftermath of a recent Supreme Court ruling.

Earlier this month the Court unanimously allowed the Isle of Wight Council’s appeal in a high-profile case on unauthorised school absence where a father took his daughter to Florida without permission from her headteacher.

The central issue in Isle of Wight Council v Platt [2017] UKSC 28 was the meaning of the word ‘regularly’ in section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996. The section states that if a child of compulsory school age ‘fails to attend regularly’ at the school where he is a registered pupil, his parents are guilty of an offence.

Lady Hale, Deputy President of the Supreme Court, said ‘regularly’ had three possible meanings in the section: it could mean (a) evenly spaced; (b) sufficiently often; or (c) in accordance with the rules. Mr Platt argued that (b) applied and his daughter had attended sufficiently frequently, but the Supreme Court unanimously held that it was (c).

In giving the judgment of the court, Lady Hale did call for a sensible prosecution policy to allow minor or trivial breaches to be dealt with appropriately.

Law firm Simpson Millar said it was concerned at the lawfulness of councils' amendments to non-attendance policies and subsequent prosecutions.

Patrick Campbell, a solicitor and mediator at the firm, said: “During the Platt case against Isle of Wight Council, and the subsequent appeals by the council, as many as 28 education authorities relaxed their truancy policy – despite explicit requests from central government not to do so – with several telling parents they would not be prosecuted as long as the child’s attendance was above a given threshold.

“Now those authorities are likely to be reviewing their policies to reflect the Supreme Court ruling, meaning parents who were told last year that they could book term-time holidays, may now be prosecuted for taking them.”

Samantha Hale, Associate Solicitor at Simpson Millar, added: “We will be keeping a close eye on amendments that local authorities and schools are likely to now make to their non-attendance policies. We are keen to make sure that any amendments to these policies are lawful and take into account any reliance parents may have placed on what are the current policies, to avoid this being to their detriment.”