Will taking your children out of school during term time land you in detention?

06/04/2017

Today’s Supreme Court ruling has added clarity to the rules about taking kids out of school in term time. With the cost of going away during school holidays rising dramatically, an increasing number of parents are taking their children out of school to benefit from cheaper deals. However, by doing so, parents run the risk of heavy fines and potentially even imprisonment.

During the 2014–2015 academic year, 98 local education authorities issued 50,414 fines for children being taken out of school for term-time breaks.

Here, experts from DAS Law explain the circumstances that currently permit an absence, the penalties you can face if you are found not to have complied with the law and also what the Supreme Court ruling means.

What the Platt case means for parents

In the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding a father who took his daughter on a term-time holiday, Simon Roberts, Solicitor with DAS Law said:

“This outcome means that the Supreme Court has taken a contrary view to Mr Platt’s interpretation of the Education Act 1996 that was supported by the High Court.  The Supreme Court held that under Section 444(1) of the Act the word ‘regularly’ means in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school and not in terms of whether a child has a good overall attendance record. The case will now go back to the Magistrates’ Court to determine whether or not Mr Platt has committed an offence under the Act.

“While the Judgment has not yet been published, the repercussions of this judgment may mean that more parents could be facing fines if they take their children out of school in term time without prior authorisation.”

The law explained

The legalities of when a child must attend school and enforcement of the law in this area depends on the local education authority (LEA) and also whether you are in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. Private schools are also able to set their own rules.

The only current exceptions where a child can miss school lawfully are when the child is too ill to attend school, or if the parent has had advance consent from the school rendering their absence as “authorised”.

Guidance issued by the Department for Education defines “authorised absence” as “approval in advance for a pupil of compulsory school age to be away, or has accepted an explanation offered afterwards as justification for absence.”

In order to have consent from the school a written application must be made in advance addressed to the head teacher of the school. Only in exceptional circumstances will a head teacher authorise absence during term time, including:

  • acute family trauma
  • terminal illness or death of a family member
  • if a family member serves in the armed forces

It is unlikely that a parent being unable to take holidays outside of the school term would be enough to be granted authorised absence, unless the parents in question are armed forces personnel with restrictions to term time only holidays.

The decision of when to grant an authorised absence, and for how long, ultimately lies with the head teacher. In England and Wales, head teachers must submit details of each child’s attendance to the local authority and can make recommendations for sanction where attendance is low or absence is unauthorised.

The local authority will then decide whether to issue a fine or sanction with an order. They have various powers that can be used, particularly where no good reason is given to justify the child’s absence. Sanctions are applied on a discretionary basis and include fines of £60, rising to £120 in the event of non-payment within 21 days. Notice of intended prosecution can be issued if payment is not made after 28 days.

If the case escalates to court action and if found guilty, parents can end up with a criminal record, face a fine of up to £2,500, and even imprisonment of up to three months. Careful considerations therefore need to be made when deciding whether to argue against any penalty charges that are issued.