Do you have to go to school?

The Supreme Court has today ruled in the case of Isle of Wight Council – v – Platt [2017] UKSC 28. The case has received much media attention and the facts of the case are that Jon Platt took his children on holiday during term time in April 2015 and was issued a fixed penalty notice which he then refused to pay, claiming that his children attended over 90% of school sessions and that accordingly his children attended regularly pursuant to s.444(1) Education Act 1996.

Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, and Lords Mance, Reed and Huges disagreed, ruling that, for the purposes of s444(1) Education Act 1996, regular attendance means 'attendance in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school.’

This means (a) that a parent must now obtain consent for all absences the child's school has not agreed, or face criminal prosecution, and (b) head teachers, not parents, now have the ultimate right not only to decide if a child should take time off school but, it can be argued, the right to decide whether to prosecute. In this case, the Isle of Wight’s Code of Conduct states:

‘It is for head teachers to determine whether or not such a request is exceptional; and to state the number of days granted. Each request can only be judged on a case-by-case basis but it is usual that head teachers will be sparing in their use of this discretion.’

To what extent will individual head teachers use their discretion, if, indeed, they are allowed any? Clearly, the expectation as far as that Council was concerned was that head teachers should not grant absences outside of the statutory exemptions contained in s.444(3) and (4) of the Act, i.e. with permission, or because of sickness, or any unavoidable cause, or for religious purposes, or (in the case where a parent can prove the school is not within walking distance and the local education authority failed to arrange transport, boarding or registration at a closer school.

Kent County Council’s guidance is that children must attend school regularly and on time during term time, save for illness or absence authorised by a head teacher, who may approve absences only in exceptional circumstances, examples of which include but are not limited to:

  • Service personnel returning from a tour of duty abroad where it is evidenced the individual will not be in receipt of any leave in the near future that coincides with school holidays,

  • Where an absenc