Section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996 provides that if a child of compulsory school age ‘fails to attend regularly’ at the school where he is a registered pupil, his or her parent is guilty of an offence.
As parents who have taken children on holiday over the last six weeks will be aware, the cost can be three times more than in term time.
Equally, if important learning is taking place during a child’s school absence, it can negatively impact a child’s development and success.
In 2013, tougher government regulations were issued. Headteachers were given the power to authorise absences in term time in ‘exceptional’ circumstances. In most cases this does not include a family holiday.
Almost 64,000 fines are imposed for unauthorised absence each year. Fines are £60 each, rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days. Where parents fail to pay the £120, LEAs can prosecute parents under s 444(1).
This can result in a fine of up to £1,000 together with the legal costs of the LEA. The parent then has a criminal record.
Jon Platt from the Isle of Wight ended up in this position when he took his six-year-old daughter on an unauthorised term time holiday to Florida, missing seven school days. He refused to pay the £60 and then the £120. The LEA prosecuted him in the Magistrates’ Court for failing to ensure regular attendance.
Mr Platt argued that his daughter had in fact attended school regularly taking into account the whole of the school year (90.3% of the time), and won.
On 13 May 2016 three judges in the High Court considered an appeal brought by the LEA against the acquittal, but agreed with the magistrates.
The High Court issued a certificate on 30 June 2016 that this was a point of law of general public importance.
The Supreme Court heard the appeal on 6 April 2017. The issue was the meaning of ‘regularly’. The Court unanimously allowed the Council’s appeal, declaring that the word ‘regularly’ means ‘in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school’.
Accordingly, the penalty notice was properly issued to Mr Platt and, having not paid it, he should have been convicted of the offence unless he could establish one of the statutory exceptions. For example the exception for absence on a single day for religious observance in s. 444(3).
The case was therefore returned to the magistrates with a direction to proceed as if his submission of no case to answer had been rejected.
Accordingly, before deciding whether to issue a £60 penalty, schools and LEAs no longer need to consider the whole of a child’s attendance record.
For further information relating to the points raised in this article, please contact Jeremy Scott or a member of the Education Team.
For further information, we are hosting a Seminar in November which will focus on GDPR in the Education Sector.
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.