Update Thursday 19 May: Since we published this story, a number of local authorities have said they will hold off issuing fines to parents who take their children out of school during term time until they get more guidance from the Department for Education. However, any fines for unauthorised absences during this interim period could be potentially issued at a later date.
The floodgates could open for more parents to take their children out of school during term time following a landmark ruling at the High Court this afternoon. However, the Department for Education has since vowed to change legislation.
A dad who refused to pay a fine for taking his six-year-old daughter on holiday when she should have been at school has won a ruling at the High Court – in a decision expected to have seismic implications for parents, schools and local authorities across the country.
For more on the rules in this area see our Can you take kids on term-time holidays without being fined? 60-second guide.
Jon Platt, 44, was fined by Isle of Wight Council after he took his family on holiday to visit Walt Disney World in Florida in April 2015, without permission from his child's school.
Appearing on Good Morning Britain before the court hearing earlier today, Mr Platt – who this year was fined for a second time over a trip to Lapland – claimed that opting for the term-time holiday to Florida was not about saving money, but the principle of the matter.
He said: "I was taking my kids on holiday and cost had nothing to do with it. For 10 years I'd been trying to get a window where all of the family could go away.
"We managed to get 15 of us [on the holiday] and the price was actually the same on the day we flew if we'd flown a week earlier."
Having made the decision to go on holiday with his family last April, Mr Platt was originally fined £60, but this was then doubled because of his refusal to pay.
The dispute went before Isle of Wight Magistrates' Court in October last year and Mr Platt won the case.
But the local authority appealed against the decision at the High Court in London.
Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall today dismissed the council's challenge, ruling that the magistrates had not "erred in law" when reaching their decision.
The ruling was reached with Mr Platt's daughter's "good" attendance record at school in mind. Her attendance was at 100% up to the holiday being requested, and 93.2% by the end of the school year the holiday was taken in.
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What are the current rules about taking kids out of school during term time?
It remains to be seen if today's High Court ruling will result in a change to the law – however, as things stand, Section 444 of the Education Act states that it's an offence to fail to make sure your child goes to school "regularly".
Crucially, though, there's no definitive answer to what's meant by the word "regularly".
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 and worse.
For more info, see the Can you take kids on term-time holidays without being fined? 60-second guide.
So what happens next?
The Department for Education has vowed to "examine today's judgment in detail" and says it will look to change the legislation, insisting it is "clear that children's attendance at school is non-negotiable".
It also plans to "strengthen statutory guidance to schools and local authorities".
MoneySavingExpert.com has asked Isle of Wight Council whether it will lodge a further appeal with the Supreme Court, but a spokesperson said it was too early to comment on the matter.
In the meantime, some councils, such as Devon County Council, have said they will hold off issuing fines until they get more guidance from the DfE, but any fines for unauthorised absences during this period could be issued at a later date.
One primary school in Kent has instead taken a novel approach and added 20 minutes to the school day in order to give kids and extra week off during the Christmas and summer term in a bid to avoid higher holiday prices.
A Brighton dad is also considering taking his school holiday fine case to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming the rules breach his human rights, so it's likely there'll be further legal developments.
What if I've already paid a fine? Does the High Court ruling mean I can reclaim what I paid?
Unfortunately there's no clear-cut answer yet. The ruling at High Court focused specifically on Mr Platt's case, and so while you can certainly cite it if you want to go down the road of appealing against a fine, the ruling itself doesn't automatically mean you'll get your money back.
If you're adamant you want to contest your fine then you could try:
- Writing to your local education authority (LEA). If your child had very high attendance in the year you were fined, you can ask them to review your case and refund the fine in light of the High Court judgment. Solicitors we've spoken to predict LEAs will dig their heels in, but suggest "testing the water" to try your luck – it doesn't cost anything.
- Take your LEA to civil court. This is quite a hardcore approach, but technically you could give it a go. Realistically though, as you'll have to pay upfront costs and it can be time-consuming, you'll have to weigh up if it's worth the risk for a £60 or £120 fine.
The LEAs we've spoken to so far have ruled out refunding fines. However, this is a developing area, and if enough people demand a refund it's always possible there could be a change of policy. If you try this, please let us know how you get on in the School Holiday Fines forum discussion.
How can I appeal if I was taken to court?
The following applies if you didn't pay a fine, were taken to magistrates' court and then forced to pay up:
- If your case concluded within the last 21 days... You can appeal. You can ask the magistrates to look at your case again and ask them to take the High Court ruling into consideration if it's applicable to your case (ie, your child had 'good' attendance).
- If it concluded more than 21 days ago... Your options are more limited. You could in theory apply to crown court and ask it to reopen your case (to find out how, you need to contact the magistrates' court where your case was heard). Again, this could prove expensive and time-consuming, and risks adding to any fines or costs you've already paid, with no guarantee of success.
How did the Jon Platt case end up at the High Court?
Isle of Wight Council took the matter to the High Court in a bid to seek "clarification". Today it said the High Court's ruling had "created massive uncertainty and cast a shadow of doubt over the policies of schools and local authorities across the country".
The council claims that the DfE had outlined what it considered to be "regular" attendance, which was that children should attend school every day, and it is under this assumption that it acted against Mr Platt in the first instance.
Councillor Jonathan Bacon, leader of Isle of Wight Council, said: "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."
Cllr Bacon added that his council will be pressing the DfE to "urgently consider creating clear legislation on this matter".