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Supreme Court to rule next week on school absence case

The Supreme Court will next week (6 April) hand down its keenly-anticipated ruling on unauthorised school absences.

The central issue in Isle of Wight Council v Platt UKSC 2016/0155 was whether, on an information alleging a failure by a parent over a specified period to secure that his child attends school regularly contrary to s.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.

Jon Platt, the respondent, had requested permission to take his daughter out of school for a holiday to Florida. However, this request was refused by his daughter's head teacher.

Mr Platt subsequently took his daughter out of school on holiday for seven days.

He was then issued with a fixed penalty notice by the local authority in respect of the absence. But he did not pay the penalty of £60 by the initial deadline and so he was sent a further invoice for £120.

Mr Platt 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 s.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 his 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 s.444(1), bearing in mind M's overall percentage attendance. Therefore, they ruled that there was no case to answer.

On appeal, the High Court (Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall) found that the Magistrates' Court was entitled to take into account attendance outside the offence dates when determining the attendance of Mr Platt’s daughter.

Isle of Wight then obtained permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, following a request to do so by the Minister for Schools.

The case was heard on 31 January by a five-judge panel comprising Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Reed and Lord Hughes. The Secretary of State for Education intervened in the case.

In December 2016 a survey by law firm Browne Jacobson found that nearly one in three school leaders (31%) reported an increase in the number of applications for term-time absences since the High Court ruling.