Ruth Hawkins on the rights and wrongs of taking term time holidays

With summer heading our way, I thought it would be helpful to deal with the recent developments with school aged children taking term time holidays.

As has been widely reported, Isle of Wight father Jon Platt recently won his High Court case and successfully overturned the £120 fine (or penalty notice) he had received for taking his six-year-old out of school for a family holiday to Florida.

As a High Court case it is persuasive but is not a binding precedent on all courts, so it is helpful to recap on what the current rules are, as until the government changes the law, they remain good law.

The most recent guidelines state that periods of absence can only be granted in “exceptional circumstances” – and guidance has been issued that generally this will not include family holidays.

Until 2013, pupils were allowed up to two weeks off per year for family holidays – to be authorised at the discretion of headteachers.

This changed when the then education secretary Michael Gove introduced guidelines requiring headteachers to take a harder line on requests for absence, and removed their discretion on family holidays.

The position currently is that if a child is taken out of school without the absence being authorised, parents are reported to their local authority and will face a fine of £60 per child – rising to £120 if not paid within 21 days.

Those who fail to pay at all can face prosecution before the magistrates court, and face a maximum fine of £2,500 or a jail sentence of up to three months.

The rules apply to pupils aged five and over in state schools.

Independent schools and the devolved governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own policies.

Can I book a term-time holiday now?

This is tricky. The Department for Education has announced its disappointment with the judgment and has accordingly pledged to close the loophole and strengthen its commitment to full attendance.

Opposition parties are more sympathetic, as are some of the teaching unions.

But the law appears to remain, that family holidays won’t be approved and will therefore be marked down as unauthorised absences.

As such, though many parents are hoping to have existing fines overturned in light of Jon Platt’s case, it is still unlikely that a headteacher will authorise a term-time holiday.

And there’s still the risk of fines. It is a decision for each parent, knowing their child, their circumstances, and the risk that a fine might follow.