Parents cannot take their children out of school for term-time holidays without risking being fined, the highest court in the land has ruled.
Supreme Court justices have ruled against a father who had refused to pay a fine issued after he'd taken his six-year-old daughter on holiday when she should have been at school.
Jon Platt, of the Isle of Wight, had previously won his case at the Isle of Wight Magistrates' Court and the High Court, having successfully argued that his daughter had attended school regularly.
His case will now be returned to the Isle of Wight Magistrates' Court, where he will face prosecution for failing to pay the £120 fine for taking his daughter out of school.
Mr Platt could attempt to take a separate case to the European Court of Human Rights, but he cannot appeal the Supreme Court ruling.
This ruling will have seismic implications for many parents who had been hoping for the law to change. In our most recent poll 69% of parents who voted said term-time holidays should be allowed.
For full info on what your rights are, see our updated Can you take kids on term-time holidays without being fined? guide.
How the test case unfolded
The case actually relates to a holiday taken two years ago - here's a brief rundown of how it got this far.
- April 2015 - Jon Platt takes daughter to Disney World in Florida on family holiday during term time
- October 2015 - Mr Platt wins his case at Isle of Wight Magistrates Court that he should not have to pay the fine
- May 2016 - Mr Platt wins his case at the High Court, which backs the magistrates' decision
- January 2017 - the case is heard at the Supreme Court
- Today - Mr Platt's case is rejected
Mr Platt's daughter had very high attendance – 95% up to the holiday, and 90.3% immediately after it.
In court Mr Platt and his solicitor argued he had complied with the Education Act because of his daughter's high attendance rate and this seven-day period didn't push her over a threshold of lack of regular attendance.
The Supreme Court has, however, now ruled that "regularly" means in "accordance with the rules prescribed by the school."
In her judgment, Lady Hale said: "Unauthorised absences have a disruptive effect, not only on the education of the individual child, but also on the work of other pupils, and of their teachers.
"If one pupil can be taken whenever it suits the parent, then so can others. Different pupils may be taken out at different times, multiplying the disruptive effect.
"Any educational system expects people to keep the rules. Not to do so is unfair to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the cost or inconvenience to themselves."
What does this mean for parents?
Today's ruling essentially means parents cannot take their children on term-time holidays without risking being fined.
In a nutshell, if your child is at an English state school (private schools are exempt) and aged 5-16, you're unlikely to get permission for a term-time holiday.
If you disregard this and take your kids out of school anyway, you could face a £60 fine, which will jump to £120 if not paid within 21 days. If you don't pay within 28 days you could be taken to magistrates' court under the Education Act 1996.
If found guilty you could end up with a criminal record and face a fine of up to £2,500, court costs or even a jail sentence of up to three months.
A headteacher can give permission for term-time absences but only in exceptional circumstances, such as for visiting seriously ill family members or attending the funeral of a close family member.
Latest figures from the Department of Education show councils issued 157,879 fixed penalty notices in 2015/16, and 151,125 the year before.
In 2015/16 108,674 notices were paid within 28 days (about 94% were paid within 21 days at the lower rate of £60), and 15,828 parents were prosecuted for non-payment of the fine. More than 22,000 fixed penalty notices were withdrawn by councils after they decided not to take parents to court.
(The totals may not match the combined total as some payments, prosecutions and withdrawals may relate to prosecutions from the previous academic year.)
What happens next?
Mr Platt's case will now be once again heard at the Isle of Wight Magistrates' Court, but he cannot appeal the Supreme Court's decision.
He said: "Be in no doubt, despite today's judgment, I followed the law, precisely as laid down and interpreted by High Court judges in two different cases from 1969 and 2006.
"To attend regularly, they told me, was to attend 'very frequently' so I decided not to pay a £60 penalty notice because my daughter had otherwise near perfect attendance.
"The decision of those High Court judges from 1969 and 2006 informed my decision making process, but here I stand outside the Supreme Court having just been told that I was wrong to rely on the decisions of those High Court judges to guide me on the law.
"With this judgment, those precedents have been swept away and the consequences can only be described as shocking."
He added: " I can tell you today that I have absolutely no intention of pleading guilty to this offence.
"To parents all over England, I say this, the legal battle is over. There is no right of appeal beyond this place.
"It will be a generation or more before this court revisits this decision, if they ever do. You can no longer make a decision to take your child out of school, even for one day, without the permission of the state."
A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We are pleased the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with our position – that no child should be taken out of school without good reason.
"As before, head teachers have the ability to decide when exceptional circumstances allow for a child to be absent but today’s ruling removes the uncertainty for schools and local authorities that was created by the previous judgment."