Back in May last year, we shared the story of Jon Platt, who successfully challenged his council over an £120 charge for taking his 6 year old daughter to Florida during term time. Today, after the Isle of Wight council appealed against that judgement, Jon Platt lost his case in a landmark hearing at the Supreme Court. The Court has now ruled that Jon acted unlawfully taking his daughter out of school during term time, and as such he will be required to pay the fine, or face a jail sentence.
We shared the painful truth of the cost of a family break in the school holidays – with breaks costing between 8% and 99% more during the peak summer period compared to the exact same holiday during term time.
Whilst I completely understand the concept of “demand based pricing” – something surely has to be done!!
So what are the facts now for those with children in school?
Can I take my child on holiday during term time?
Based on today’s decision, the strict answer is No. The Supreme Court have ruled that a parent should not, or even must not, take their child out of school during term time unless given explicit permission under the individual school’s attendance policy. This applies to all children across the whole of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
So if I ask the school, then I can go?
It’s not quite as straight forward as that – you can ask the school for ‘leave of absence’ to take your child out during term time, but unless unavoidable or under a significantly mitigating circumstance, it is unlikely to be accepted. If nothing else, whilst a head teacher maintains some of the ultimate discretion, they have also got to be seen to be acting fairly, and cannot approve every single request they get – for obvious reasons. The National Association of Head Teachers has advised that any absence during term time should be rare, significant, unavoidable and short. In other words, you may be far more likely to get a day or two of term time holiday granted as opposed to a two week break slap bang in the middle of term.
What happens if I just decide to go anyway?
You may see yourself liable for a fine if you take you child out of school for more than 5 days every term as a result of unauthorised holidays. This will vary by your local council’s ruling, but in theory, ANY unauthorised holiday during term time could result in a fine. The initial fine is £60, which can be doubled if not paid within 28 days. Parents should also be aware that failure to pay any fines could result in jail time, as it is a breach of the 1996 Education Act.
The maximum fine in extreme cases would be £2500, a three month jail sentence and other penalties.
But it’s cheaper just to pay the fine, as the fine is far less than the difference in holiday price. What if I just pay up?
Understandably, having seen the difference in prices, many parents would ‘take the risk’ and simply offer to pay the fine if caught out. The number of people doing this in 2015 went up by 21%, but the average fine was just £176. That said, 8 people did go to jail, so not something to be taken lightly.
So what are exceptional circumstances?
Clearly this is open to interpretation. You would need to write to your head teacher outlining your reasons for wanting to take your child out, how many days for, and the dates. There are many people that would argue that their holidays are educational, that their child is learning about languages, history and culture. Is a visit to see elderly relatives abroad exceptional? What about a parent with health problems who would benefit from the cathartic experience of a family trip away from the stress of their treatment at home? The answer is – there is no set in stone ruling on this.
Sadly, in some cases I have read previously, even a bereavement is not an automatic free pass to a child being taken out of school. I personally find this a little shocking!
What other options do we have?
Some head teachers are becoming quite savvy about this – with one school reportedly moving all their inset days to the end of term, creating an extra week of annual leave that didn’t technically fall into the standard summer holiday period. Whilst this may sound like a perfect solution, regional employers also have to be considered. If a whole city all suddenly wanted the last week in June as annual leave, there would ultimately HR departments declining these requests – a large proportion of their workforce are likely to be families, and lets face it, they still have a business to run!
What’s our view?
Personally I am so disappointed by this ruling, as I was hopeful that the petition last year requesting up to 10 days authorised would be considered. My view is that if your child has a good level of attendance throughout the year, that the odd day of absence here and there would not have a massive impact on their education. I am obviously not a teacher, and I am sure there may be some who disagree, but for me it is all about reasonableness. That lovely vague word.
We are having our last ever family holiday in term time this year before my daughter starts school in September, and it is quite sad to know that I will probably NEVER be able to afford to take the girls to the same standard of holiday again.
Unfortunately the holiday companies appear to be retaining their trump card for now, in that whilst people continue to pay the rocketing prices, there is very little motivation for them to change.
We will be keeping a close eye on the story as it evolves, and share any updates that may cause these findings to change (but I wouldn’t hold your breath!)