Iain Wright: Welcome ruling on school term-time holidays

Jon Platt speaks to the media outside the Supreme Court in London, where he lost a court battle over taking his daughter on holiday to Disney World during school term-time. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday April 6, 2017. Five justices at the UK's highest court gave the ruling on a challenge by Isle of Wight Council in a case involving Mr Platt, who took his daughter on a seven-day family trip to Disney World in Florida in April 2015. See PA story COURTS Truancy. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Jon Platt speaks to the media outside the Supreme Court in London, where he lost a court battle over taking his daughter on holiday to Disney World during school term-time. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday April 6, 2017. Five justices at the UK's highest court gave the ruling on a challenge by Isle of Wight Council in a case involving Mr Platt, who took his daughter on a seven-day family trip to Disney World in Florida in April 2015. See PA story COURTS Truancy. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The Supreme Court has ruled that parents do not automatically have the right to take their child out of school for term-time holidays.

It ruled against Mr Jon Platt, who had won previous court battles against a £120 fine brought by his council after he took his daughter out of school for a holiday to Florida. Mr Platt said the ruling showed that the “state was taking the rights away from parents”, while the Prime Minister commented that it was “right that the individual head teacher has that flexibility to make that decision”.

This has proven to be a controversial case which has opened up issues of who has the right to decide what is best for a child’s education and who decides when an absence is justified. The Government’s published advice on school attendance states that an “unauthorised absence is where a school is not satisfied with the reasons given for the absence.” The advice, which applies to all state funded schools, further states that schools should consider each application individually but that authorised leaves of absence should only be granted in “exceptional circumstances” and that a family holiday is unlikely to meet this criteria.

“Head teachers should only authorise leave of absence in exceptional circumstances. If a head teacher grants a leave request, it will be for the head teacher to determine the length of time that the child can be away from school. Leave is unlikely, however, to be granted for the purposes of a family holiday as a norm.”

It is the responsibility of parents to ensure the regular attendance of their child at their registered school. Although there is no definition of “regular attendance” in the legislation, the judges in this case ruled that the interpretation is at the discretion of the school. This makes matters very clear: parents can be fined if their children do not attend school without the permission of the head teacher, except in cases of illness, family bereavement or similar such circumstances

I can understand why many parents are angry at having to pay higher costs to take holidays during term-time. However, I cannot disagree with the sentiment of the judges and the Government on this matter, that the education of the child should be the absolute priority. As the Government has said, the evidence shows that every extra day of school missed leaves a lasting impact on their life. A child who is absent also impacts teachers and other children, as planning of lessons is disrupted by missing large portions of teaching and needing to make up what they have not learned.

In my view the status quo does strike the right balance between the need to allow absences in genuinely exceptional circumstances and the need to provide the best possible education for all pupils and I welcome this ruling.