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Supreme Court upholds ban on parents taking children out of school during term-time

View profile for Henrietta  Bennett
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In the matter of Isle of Wight Council (Appellant) v Platt (Respondent) [2017] UKSC 28, on appeal from [2016] EWHC 1283 (Admin), the Supreme Court has upheld a ban on parents taking children out of school for holidays during term time.

Under Section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996, a child of compulsory school age must attend ‘regularly’ at the school where they are a registered pupil. If they fail to do so, the parent will be guilty of an offence.

One such parent was Mr Platt who sought permission for his daughter to be removed from school during term time for a holiday. On the head teacher’s refusal, Mr Platt decided to continue with the holiday and take her out of school for seven days, as planned.

He was issued with a penalty notice on her return but did not pay the fixed penalty. As a result he was prosecuted in the Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court where magistrate held that Mr Platt had ensured that his daughter attended school ‘regularly’ (with 90.3% attendance for the year) and, therefore, had no case to answer.

The Isle of Wight Council appealed this decision, raising the issue of whether the magistrates had been entitled to take into account attendance at school outside the period of the absence. The Divisional Court certified a point of law of general public importance on the meaning of the words ‘fails to attend regularly’ in section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996.

Judgment

The Supreme Court allowed the appeal and declared that ‘regularly’ means ‘in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school’.

Before 1944, the offence of failing to cause a child to attend school without a reasonable excuse could be committed by a single day’s absence. Under the Education Act 1944, the concept of reasonable excuse was replaced with a closed list of circumstances in which absence was permitted – it provided that the offence would be committed if the child failed to attend school ‘regularly’. This was reflected in the Education Act 1993 and persisted to the 1996 Act.

The meaning of the word ‘regularly’ was investigated by the Supreme Court, considering its intention when Parliament enacted s444(1).

The reasons for the judgement centred on the interpretation of ‘regularly’ to be ‘in accordance with the rules’. Consequently, the penalty notice was issued to Mr Platt and as he had not paid the penalty fine he should be convicted of the offence unless he is able to establish one of the statutory exceptions. The case has therefore been returned to the magistrates with a direction to proceed as if his submission of no case to answer had been rejected.

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