The Supreme Court today ruled against an Isle of Wight father who took his daughter on holiday to Disney World in term-time without her headteacher’s permission.
Five justices at the highest court in the land unanimously allowed an appeal by education chiefs against an earlier ruling that Jon Platt had not acted unlawfully.
Mr Platt, who took his daughter on a seven-day family trip to Florida in April 2015 without the school’s permission, was prosecuted by Isle of Wight Council after he refused to pay a £120 penalty.
But local magistrates found there was no case to answer.
Two High Court judges in London later upheld the magistrates’ decision, declaring Mr Platt was not acting unlawfully because his daughter had a good overall attendance record of over 90 per cent.
They said the magistrates were entitled to take into account the ‘wider picture’ of the child’s attendance record outside of the dates she was absent on the holiday in Florida.
In an action closely watched by schools and parents all over the country, the council urged the Supreme Court to overturn the High Court decision, saying it raised important issues over what constitutes ‘regular attendance’ at school.
Mr Platt said today said he was ‘not at all surprised’ to have lost a Supreme Court battle over taking his daughter on holiday during school term-time, adding that schools now need to think ‘very carefully’ about absence rules.
Five justices at the UK’s highest court gave their 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.
The High Court ruling in May last year cleared Mr Platt of failing to ensure his daughter attended school regularly, as required by section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.
Mr Platt’s request for permission to take his daughter out of school was refused by her headteacher.
After the holiday he was issued with a fixed penalty notice, but he did not pay the £60 by the initial deadline, and was sent a further invoice for £120, which he also did not pay.
At a Supreme Court hearing in January, the local authority, backed by the Education Secretary, argued that a child’s unauthorised absence from school ‘’for even a single day, or even half a day’’ can amount to a criminal offence.
But a QC for Mr Platt described the submission as a new and radical interpretation of the law which was absurd and would ‘’criminalise parents on an unprecedented scale’’.
James Eadie QC, for the Education Secretary, argued it would be ‘’absurd’’ if parents could go on holiday with children when ‘’the sun is out and foreign climes beckon’’ in a way that ‘’undermined’’ Government policy on unauthorised absences.
Controversy was triggered when the Government ordered a crackdown on school absences in 2013.
New guidelines were introduced for English schools which only allow heads to permit pupils to miss classes in ‘’exceptional circumstances’’.
Families complain that trips in official holiday periods are up to four times more expensive, and local councils have reported that the number of breaks in term time is increasing.
The Department for Education has told parents that their children missing just a few days in the classroom can damage GCSE results.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said removing children from school during term-time would create ‘chaos’ in the classroom.
She said: ‘I completely understand the difficulties that working parents face - I did myself as a single mum.
‘But it’s really, really important that we set that principle that actually children should attend school in term-time.
‘There are exceptional circumstances, there is discretion at the moment.
‘But if all parents took their children out of school in term-time because it was cheaper to get a holiday that way, then it would be chaos in our schools and it would affect all children.’