A trip to Disneyland during school time may be every child’s dream, but the Supreme Court has now ruled it could also be criminal offence.
So, what’s the story here?
Mr Platt and his family fancied a holiday. And, as every parent knows, going away during school holidays costs a fortune. So he decided, for once, they would go away in term time. He asked his daughter’s school permission and they refused… So he did it anyway.
The Education Act 1996 (S444 (1)) says parents have a duty to ensure their children attend school ‘regularly’. It is a criminal offence if parents fail to do this.
Mr Platt was given a fixed penalty notice (a little bit like getting a parking ticket) and fine of £60. He refused to pay and it was increased to £120. When he refused to pay this he was prosecuted.
This case revolved around on the meaning of the word ‘regularly’. Mr Platt argued that, given his daughter had 92.3 percent attendance, her attendance at school was regular. The court, however, considered three different possible ways the word could be interpreted.
So what does ‘regularly’ mean?
The Court looked at three possible meanings of regularly:
- ‘Evenly Spaced’ ❌
The court decided this couldn’t be the meaning as, for example, attending school every Monday would be enough.
- ‘Sufficiently Often’ ❌
Again, the justices decided this wasn’t the answer that Parliament had intended when writing the law. Firstly there are clear rules about when school attendance is required, such as all weekdays during term time. The rules were also put in place to make the system stricter – to remove rid of the possibility of providing a ‘reasonable excuse’, so it’s unlikely the Government meant sufficiently often.There is also already an exception to have a day off for a religious holiday, which tends to the belief any other reasons should not be allow. Finally, if ‘regularly’ meant ‘sufficiently often’ this would be too unclear to be a criminal offence.
- ‘In Accordance with the Rules in the Statute’ ✅
This basically means judging the meaning by looking at what is and isn’t allowed in legislation. The Supreme Court decided ‘regularly’ must mean that children must attend school in accordance with the rules. This interpretation enables everyone to know where they stand, with schools able to set their own policies.
There are also, obvious, common sense reasons for this interpretation. Random absences disrupt the learning for the both child in question and other children and teachers. It can also be seen as taking the Mickey and unfair on other parents who stick to the rules.
Finally, children are in school to learn the bare necessities of life. Allowing parents to break the rules does not set a good example.
No more holidays then?
Parents who want to go on holiday during term time will now have to let it go. This does not mean that parents who sneak children out of school for the odd day will face criminal charges though. The court was clear that minor breaches should be dealt with appropriately and that their ruling should not interfere with headteacher discretion.
Although parents beware, you never know who you might bump into when you are away. It’s a small world, after all!