Education & Family

Term-time holiday court ruling will cause 'confusion'

Jon Platt Image copyright PA
Image caption Jon Platt won his High Court case after refusing to pay a fine for taking his daughter on holiday in term-time

A High Court ruling backing a parent who refused to pay a fine for taking his child on holiday in term time will cause "huge confusion", an MP has said.

Education select committee chairman Neil Carmichael said parents would be "wondering what to do" after Friday's ruling, and would need clarity.

The High Court concluded Jon Platt had no case to answer because his daughter had attended school regularly overall.

The government has said it will now consider making alterations to the law.

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The Isle of Wight Council had asked the High Court to clarify whether a seven-day absence amounted to a child failing to attend regularly after Mr Platt, 44, took his daughter on holiday, despite her school refusing permission for the trip.

The court backed magistrates who had ruled Mr Platt, had no case to answer.

Speaking to BBC Radio Four's Today programme, Mr Carmichael said: "I certainly think we need a period of reflection on this matter because this ruling causes a huge amount of confusion.

"Instead of confusion we need clarity - clarity for parents and clarity for the schools, because people will be wondering what to do next given the scale of the change."

Cheap holiday

Since 2013, tougher government regulations have meant head teachers can grant leave of absence to pupils during term time only in "exceptional circumstances".

Shadow schools minister Nic Dakin told Today the previous rules, which allowed head teachers to grant leave for up to 10 days under "special circumstances", had been "working effectively".

But Mr Carmichael said the problem with that policy was in defining what counted as "special circumstances".

"You'd have to be very careful about defining what you think is a special circumstance," he said.

"The government will have to think very carefully about this because what we don't want is the special circumstance happens to be 'There's a cheap holiday and we'd like to go'."

Image caption The government says regularly missing lessons can harm pupils' chances of getting good qualifications

Rather than reverting to the previous system, which he argued could lead to classroom disruption because of families taking children on cheaper holidays, Mr Carmichael suggested that term times could be "more flexible".

He said this was a suggestion he would be making to the education select committee when it considers the issue.

Mr Dakin said the ruling was the "worst of both worlds" because it left uncertainty for both teachers and parents.

He criticised the decision to change the rules around term-time holidays and called on the government to look at the issue again.

"I think it was a foolish move and I think it's led to where we are today," he added.

'Plenty of time'

Sal Davies was fined in 2008 for taking her children, aged six and seven, out of school for 10 days to see their grandparents in Asia.

She told BBC Radio 5 live: "I really don't think those 10 days out of school damaged my children, changed their educational potential.

"I think they've done really well. They met family members. It was where I was born. It was a wonderful trip."

But Patsy Kane, an executive head teacher of Whalley Range and Levenshulme high schools in Manchester, said parents needed to take the "really long term view" on their children's education.

"There are 13 weeks' holiday throughout the school year when parents can take trips.

"There's six weeks in most areas for the summer holiday. That really is plenty of time for extended family trips."

Travel industry 'delighted'

Mr Platt was issued with a £60 fixed penalty fine following the holiday to Disney World in April 2015.

After he missed the payment deadline, the council doubled the fine to £120 which he also refused to pay.

The council then prosecuted him for failing to ensure that his daughter attended school regularly, contrary to a section of the Education Act 1996.

Mr Platt successfully argued there was no case to answer as the prosecution had failed to show that the child did not attend regularly.

Even with this and other absences, Mr Platt maintains her attendance remained above 90% - the threshold for persistent truancy defined by the Department for Education.

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Media captionJon Platt: "I do know better than the school what's right for my kids"

According to local authority data, almost 64,000 fines were imposed for unauthorised absences between September 2013 and August 2014.

Many parents complain that the cost of going away in the school holidays can be four times as much as during term time.

But the government says there is clear evidence "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".

The Independent's travel editor Simon Calder told BBC Radio 4's PM programme on Friday the ruling would "certainly" lead to prices coming down in school holidays, but would also cause them to "gradually" go up in term time.

He said the travel industry was "quietly absolutely delighted" by this because they wanted prices to be more level throughout the year.

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