A father who refused to pay a fine for taking his six-year-old daughter out of school for a family trip to Florida, has won a ruling in his favour at the High Court, which campaigners say could pave the way for similar challenges.
Jon Platt was issued with a £60 fine by Isle of Wight Council after he took his family on the trip last April, without permission from the school. When he refused to pay, the fine was doubled to £120.
The Isle of Wight Council then prosecuted him for failing to ensure that his daughter attended school regularly, contrary to section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.
However, the magistrates decided Mr Platt had “no case to answer” because no evidence had been produced to prove that his daughter – who is now aged seven – had failed to attend school “regularly”.
Nevertheless, the local authority decided to appeal the magistrate’s decision in the High Court.
On Friday, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall dismissed the council’s challenge, ruling that the magistrates had not “erred in law” when reaching their decision.
Commenting on his victory, Mr Platt said, “I am obviously hugely relieved. I know there was an awful lot riding on this. Not just for me but for hundreds of other parents.”
Julie Robertson, solicitor at Simpson Millar, who has represented parents over term-time holiday fines, said: “This decision has provided much needed clarity for parents as to whether regular attendance can continue to be decided on an individual basis by the lower Courts. This decision gives parents the freedom and comfort to continue to take their children out of school during term time provided that they secure regular attendance on the whole.”
She added: “Attendance alone does not guarantee that a child will do well academically, nor does missing a few classes prevent them from succeeding.”
Jonathan Bacon, leader of Isle of Wight Council, said he was disappointed the ruling had failed to clarify the definition of attending school “regularly”.
Mr Bacon said that government guidance had been that it meant attending every school day, but added: “Today’s ruling may be taken to imply that parents can take children out of school on holiday for up to three weeks every year.
“This will clearly have a detrimental affect on the education of those children,” he argued.
The government says it will now consider making alterations to the law.
“We will look at the judgement in detail but are clear children’s attendance is non-negotiable so we will now look to change the law,” said a spokesman for the Department for Education.
“We also plan to strengthen statutory guidance to schools and local authorities.”
Mr Platt, originally from Northern Ireland, crowdfunded £25,000 to cover legal costs and earlier described the £13,000 he has so far paid as “money well spent”.
Craig Langman, chairman of the Parents Want a Say campaign against the term-time holiday ban in England, called the court case “a pivotal moment”.