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The judgement's in on term-time holidays

Children in airport with suitcases

The Supreme Court has ruled that parents shouldn't take children on holiday during term-time. A father who took his daughter away for a week when she should have been at school has just lost his legal challenge against a £120 fine. But what does the ruling mean for parents?

The newly reinforced current laws

The Supreme Court has just ruled that “regular” attendance at school must be in keeping with the rules of the schools. The court said that “no child should be taken out of school without good reason”.

Guidelines state that periods of absence can only be granted in “exceptional circumstances” – a definition that sadly does not account for a family getaway. On the other hand, an overseas funeral or a religious festival might be authorised.

Until 2013, pupils were allowed up to two weeks off per year for family holidays – at the discretion of head teachers. This changed when then Education Secretary Michael Gove introduced guidelines requiring headteachers to take a harder line on requests for absence.

If a child is taken out of school without the absence being authorised, parents are reported to their local authority and will face a fine of £60 per child – rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days. Those who don't pay at all can face prosecution, with a maximum fine of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months.

The rules apply to pupils five and over in state schools. Independent schools and the devolved governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own policies.

What happened in the recent court case?

The father in the case, Jon Platt, originally appealed a £120 fine for taking his daughter on an unauthorised holiday to Disney World. He argued that as his daughter has regularly attended school over the course of the year, with an attendance rate of 92%, the term-time absence should not be seen in isolation and should be considered in terms of her overall school attendance.

While he was initially successful in his argument, the Supreme Court has now ruled against him. In the ruling, the judges said parents would have to comply with the rules set by schools and education authorities.

The Local Government Association has previously called for “a commonsense approach” to the problem, and suggested the the government should find a sensible solution that does not tie families to set holiday periods. At the moment, though, this isn't going to happen.

Supreme Court Judge Lady Hale said that allowing parents to take children out of school in term-time is disruptive to their learning and would cause problems with teachers and other children in the class.

Mr Platt was not happy with the decision, saying in response to the Supreme Court's decision that the “state was taking the rights away from parents”.

The upshot is that unless there is a reasonable cause for absence, such as illness, parents can expect a penalty notice starting at £60 for term-time holidays.

Can I book a term-time holiday?

Short answer: no.

A Press Association survey found there were almost 20,000 prosecutions in 2015 for this offense, up more than 20% on the previous year, leading to more than 11,000 fines and in eight cases, jail sentences.

You risk fines, community sentences and even jail time if the reason for the absence is unauthorised and you don't have the headteacher's permission.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "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 evidence shows every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil's chances of achieving good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.”

What do parents think?

A Mumsnet survey in 2015 showed that 81% of parents feel annoyed about the higher cost of peak time holiday, and two thirds say it prevents them from going away.

71% believe that the government should issue revised guidance, giving headteachers the ultimate say and removing the statement that holidays are unlikely to be approved.

The case has raised awareness about the steep cost of holidays during school holidays – Cheapflights travel website said that there could be up to a 50 per cent difference in prices.

Mumsnetters on term-time holidays:

“I think that if parents can't afford a particular holiday during term time, they should spend longer saving up or choose a cheaper holiday.”

“Education isn't just about books and classrooms. Children also learn from travelling and experiencing other cultures and environments.”

“Common sense would dictate that power is put back into the hands of the head teachers to decide on a case by case basis whether to authorise an absence.”

“There needs to be more compassion. I know a family who adopted a child wanted to go on a religious pilgrimage with the entire extended family. It would have been a lovely way for the newly adopted child to bond with the extended family, but it was refused.”

“Whether it's illegal or not, it really isn't an ideal thing to do. There are plenty of days throughout the year when children aren't expected to attend school when they could go on holiday.”