Supreme Court overturns High Court ruling on term time holidays

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06 April, 2017

Isle of Wight Council v Platt [2017] UKSC 28

On 6 April 2017 the Supreme Court delivered its judgement, overturning the decision of the High Court which was that Mr Platt had not breached s444(1) of the Education Act 1996, as his daughter's attendance was otherwise regular notwithstanding the term time absence (the absence caused the child's attendance level to fall from 95% to 90.3%).

Section 444(1) of the Act states:

"If a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at the school, his parent is guilty of an offence"

The Supreme Court considered the meaning of the word 'regularly' in depth. Specifically, Lady Hale observed 3 distinct meanings of the word:

(a) At regular intervals;

(b) Sufficiently frequently; or

(c) In accordance with the rules prescribed by the school.

The Court considered with reference to case law as to which meaning Parliament had intended to attribute to s. 444(1). Despite the fact that many people (including the Magistrates Court and High Court respectively in this case) would interpret the word 'regularly' within s.444(1) to mean (b) sufficiently frequently.

However, Lady Hale was of the view that this meaning could not have been intended by Parliament in enacting bot the Education Act 1996 and its predecessor, the Education Act 1944 for a number of reasons.

One of those reasons being the uncertainty of this interpretation in that it is far too wide for Parliament to have intended it to be interpreted as (b) above. In the judgement, Lady Hale states that 'sufficiently frequently' can be interpreted to mean 'regular', but in this particular context i.e in an Education setting where attendance is compulsory and rules and regulations are of paramount importance it was necessary to look beyond this, toward meaning (c).

The Court also took into account that policy reasons had to be borne in mind in reaching the decision to allow the appeal.

The case will now be referred back to the Magistrates Court, where it will proceed as if it had rejected the finding of 'no case to answer'. Mr. Platt will be required to pay the fine, unless he can show one of the exceptions available within s.444.

This landmark ruling will surely stand as a warning to Parents considering booking holidays during term time.

With increasing scrutiny within the education sector, will this change some Schools' stance in their decision to allow exceptions?

For more information contact Joshua Burke in our Employment & HR department via email or phone on 01772 220 263. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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