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Supreme Court grants appeal on school term time absence dispute case

The Supreme Court has will hear an appeal by Isle of Wight council against the decision in the administrative court that no offence was committed by a parent who took a child out of school during term time.

The issue in Isle of Wight Council (Appellant) v Platt (Respondent) is whether, in the event of an alleged failure by a parent over a specified period to ensure that their child attends school regularly (contrary to section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996), the child’s attendance outside the specified period is relevant to the question whether the offence has been committed.

The respondent requested permission to take his daughter out of school for a holiday. This request was refused by the daughter’s head teacher. The respondent took his daughter out of school on holiday for 7 days.

As a result, he was issued with a fixed penalty notice in respect of the absence. The respondent did not pay the penalty of £60 by the initial deadline and so he was sent a further invoice for £120. The respondent did not pay this either and so he was prosecuted on the basis of his alleged failure to secure regular attendance at school of his daughter, contrary to section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.

The respondent pleaded Not Guilty before the Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court. The defence submitted that there was no case to answer as the respondent’s daughter had in fact attended school regularly. The attendance register showed attendance at 92.3%. The Magistrates’ Court held that the respondent’s daughter was a regular attender for the purposes of section 444(1), bearing in mind the daughter’s overall percentage attendance. Therefore, they ruled that there was no case to answer.

On appeal, the High Court agreed (Isle of Wight Council v Platt (2016) EWHC 1283 (Admin)) that the Magistrates’ Court was entitled to take into account attendance outside the offence dates when determining the attendance of the respondent’s daughter.

The Supreme Court said that it hopes to schedule the appeal hearing for a date in the first quarter of 2017.

Mr Platt told the BBC: "I am disappointed that the appeal has been allowed. Their position is so shocking I hoped the court would say it was not arguable, let alone winnable. The decision creates uncertainty and distress for parents, who will be worried sick for the next few weeks that they may have committed a criminal offence by taking their children out of school. But I am delighted we won't have to wait long for the hearing. Usually it would take six months for a full hearing, so it has been expedited."