A significant proportion of Ibiza’s early season business comes from British Families with school age children. We all know the rules, but not everybody observes them.
Today a father has won his case in the High Court that serves to quash a fine issued by his local authority for taking his child out of school without authority for a family vacation during term time.
We know from opinions received that it is an issue that divides opinion. For some families it is only the lower cost of holidays during the low season term time that enables them to have a family holiday at all. Does that justify missing school?
After his hearing in the high court, Jon Platt said he had won a victory which would benefit hundreds of other parents facing similar penalties.
But a Department for Education source said children’s attendance at school was “non-negotiable” and “we shall now look to change the law and strengthen statutory guidance”.
Mr Platt was fined by Isle of Wight Council after he took his family on the holiday, which included a visit to Walt Disney World, without permission from his child’s school.
He was originally fined £60. This was then doubled because of his refusal to pay.
The dispute went before Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court in October when Mr Platt won the case.
But the local authority appealed against the decision at the High Court in London.
On Friday, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall dismissed the council’s challenge, ruling that the magistrates had not “erred in law” when reaching their decision.
The magistrates decided Mr Platt had “no case to answer” because no evidence had been produced to prove that his daughter – who is now aged seven and can only be referred to as M for legal reasons – had failed to attend school “regularly”.
The two High Court judges ruled that the magistrates were entitled to take into account the “wider picture” of the child’s attendance record during the school year – M had an attendance rate of 92.3%.
They ruled the magistrates were not restricted, as the local authority had argued, to just considering her “0% attendance” when she was absent on the unauthorised holiday.
Lord Justice Lloyd Jones said: “I do not consider it is open to an authority to criminalise every unauthorised holiday by the simple device of alleging that there has been no regular attendance in a period limited to the absence on holiday.”
After the ruling, Mr Platt said outside court: “I am obviously hugely relieved. I know that there was an awful lot riding on this – not just for me, but for hundreds of other parents.”
But the Department for Education source said: “We will look at the judgment in detail, but we are clear that children’s attendance at school is non-negotiable and we shall now look to change the law.
“We will plan to strengthen the statutory guidance to schools and local authorities.”
Currently, headteachers can only permit term-time absences in “exceptional circumstances”. Before a Government revamp in September 2013, they were able to grant pupil absences for up to 10 days a year for family holidays in “special circumstances”.
Opponents argue poor households struggle to pay for expensive summer holidays as firms put up prices.
Currently, if an absence is unauthorised, local authorities have an obligation to fine parents and enforce legal proceedings on behalf of schools.
Under the current system, parents who take children out of school without permission could face a £60 fine per child, rising to £120 if it is not paid within 21 days.
Those who fail to pay can face prosecution, with a maximum fine, if convicted, of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months.
The Local Government Association has said there are occasions where parents’ requests should be considered, such as religious festivals, weddings, funerals or an “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.
Prime Minister David Cameron has previously said that he has “sympathy” for parents struggling financially.
Mark Jackson, appearing for the local authority, had argued that parents “cannot simply take their children out of school to take them on holiday, or for any other unauthorised reason”.
He argued section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996 stated that if a child failed to attend school regularly the parent was guilty of an offence, subject to certain statutory exceptions which did not include holidays.
The policy of M’s school made it clear that holidays in term time “would not be authorised”, said Mr Jackson.
He argued the magistrates should not simply have asked themselves “had the child attended school regularly” but whether she had attended regularly “during the period identified in the summons – 13-21 April 2015”.
That was the period when she had been on holiday with her family and her attendance rate was “0%”.
Rejecting the submission, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones said: “I do not consider it is open to an authority to criminalise every unauthorised holiday by the simple device of alleging that there has been no regular attendance in a period limited to the absence on holiday.”
The school’s attendance register showed that M had an attendance rate of 92.35%.
The judge said: “I consider the magistrates correctly had regard to the wider picture.
“In all the circumstances of this case I am unable to say their conclusion was not one reasonably open to them.”
Councillor Jonathan Bacon, leader of Isle of Wight Council, said that greater clarity was needed on the meaning of the term “regularly” in the legislation.
He said that the Government guidance had been that “regularly” meant attending every school day, but that the High Court ruling could imply a child could be taken out of school for up to three weeks every year.
He said: “This case was always about seeking clarification on this matter and unfortunately today’s ruling has created massive uncertainty and cast a shadow of doubt over the policies of schools and local authorities across the country.
“The Department for Education had outlined what it considered to be ‘regular’ attendance, which was that children should attend school every day, and it is under that assumption that we acted.
“It is also clear that attendance and educational attainment are intertwined. However, today’s ruling may be taken to imply that parents can take children out of school on holiday for up to three weeks every year.
“This will clearly have a detrimental effect on the education of those children, the rest of their class and their teachers.
“I’m very disappointed about the failure to give clear guidance today. We need to consider the impact of this on the Island, but it is clear it will also have an effect across the country.
“We will be pressing the Department for Education to urgently consider creating clear legislation on this matter for the benefit of parents, schools and local authorities alike.”