Parents ‘must obey school rules’ Supreme Court says

family life

The Supreme Court has overturned lower court rulings in favour of a father who had taken his daughter on holiday during term time.

The case concerned Jon Platt from the Isle of Wight, who had applied to his eight year-old daughter’s headteacher for permission to take her on holiday for a week during term time in 2015. When the headteacher refused, Mr Platt took her anyway and as a result received a fixed penalty which he in term to refused to pay. As a result the fine was doubled to £120 and he was taken to the local magistrates court – but they found in the father’s favour, saying he had “no case to answer” because her attendance across the school year remained at over 90 per cent.

Isle of Wight Council decided to pursue the case, with support from the Department for Education. The High Court backed the magistrates’ decision, however, saying it was one they had been entitled to reach. The Council duly took their case further up the judicial ladder and the Supreme Court has now found unanimously in its favour.

Giving the sole judgement, Deputy Supreme Court President Lady Justice Hale said the decision turned on the interpretation of a key word in the relevant section of the Education Act 1996. This states that parents of school age children are guilty of an offence if their offspring “fails to attend regularly”. In the lower courts, Mr Platt had successfully argued that his daughter’s good attendance record over the rest of the school year meant that she was indeed attending “regularly”.

But, Lady Hale insisted, ‘regularly’ had to mean “in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school”. Unauthorised absences and affected the progress of the child in question and their classmates she said.

“These disrupt the education of the individual child. Work missed has to be made up, requiring extra work by the teacher who has already covered and marked this subject matter with the other pupils. Having to make up for one pupil’s absence may also disrupt the work of other pupils. Group learning will be diminished by the absence of individual members of the group.”

There would also be a snowball effect if one parent was allowed to take their child out of school when it suited them, Her Ladyship continued. Other parents would do the same “thus increasing the disruptive effect exponentially.”

The case will now be remitted to Mr Platt’s local magistrates court, with instructions to issue a new ruling as though they had rejected his case at the earlier hearing.

Mr Platt said the Supreme Court’s decision meant the state was “taking the rights away from parents“.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education welcomed the judgement however.

“We are pleased the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with our position – that no child should be taken out of school without good reason. As before, head teachers have the ability to decide when exceptional circumstances allow for a child to be absent but today’s ruling removes the uncertainty for schools and local authorities that was created by the previous judgment.”

The full ruling is available here.

hoto courtesy of Intelligent Car Leasing via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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4 comments

Devil's Advocate - April 6, 2017 at 4:30pm

Who has parental responsibilty the parent or as it seems H Harmon and friends in the judiciary?
And least we forget, which Parliamentarian said to the national press, “Families dont need fathers”.
A’hmmmm!
The child’s interaction with the famyil is more important than a lot of the garbage drivel she would have missed, driven by neoliberal nonsense!

Brian - April 6, 2017 at 8:14pm

Law and judgments do amuse me on occasions on how the “system” works. The system in this case works. Maybe not for an individual parent’s selfishness, but for the interests of all whom attend an educational institution. This matter is one of significance for those people who only get one chance not to get left behind in society and it addresses their needs. Being a parent is more than just about your own offspring and responsibilities to those offspring, it’s about your responsibilities and the consequences of your (selfish) actions in a wider society and community so that your arrogance and disregard for others does not contribute to others getting left behind (Matthew Ch. 7:12). It’s hard to cover a syllabus in a timetable if people are picking and choosing attendance. I attended a college where I had to attend in breaks so the teacher could catch up because he was indulging such conduct and I was being deprived of the holiday periods because some students failed to attend during term time and I made my feelings known on the matter. It’s unfair to those who do commit! This judgment reflect that and people should not indulge those who are selfish and think only of themselves. He’s fortunate that the supreme court has indulged the argument and given the parent to claim his little victory in that the meaning of “regularly” required clarification and not hammered with costs and an opportunity to admit his wrong doing and pay off the original £60 rather than chance it with now his more clearly defined argument of what “regularly” means – because the outcome is clear now thanks to the supreme court. If the father continues he will lose!!! The “system” always wins – it writes the rules! This ruling is fair on everyone – following rules is what makes society work – otherwise there is anarchy. There’s an educational lesson for the father on this one outside the classroom – which was one of his points too – but maybe he skipped that when the teachers taught it at school when his parents took him on holiday – which is the LEA’s point…oh the irony!

Andrew - April 7, 2017 at 12:23pm

The people who insist that their holiday is of “educational value” and that their special snowflake “needs” it in term-time had better hope that when their children are approaching GCSE or A-Level exams and every day counts none of their teachers take the same decision about their children!

Brian - April 7, 2017 at 5:31pm

Andrew, I am of the opinion the “parents” you refer to in that statement are safe from what you suggest. I’m confident that Headmasters and teachers are responsible enough with the sword of Damocles of exam results league tables to not be stupid or reckless enough to do you have suggested. Your point runs parallel to what the authorities were advocating all along. Sometimes the state knows what is in the long term interests better than a parent. An authority sometimes has a better and broader understanding of just one parents opinion. Not always but generally.

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