After two years of uncertainty, educational establishments finally have clarity; a Supreme Court Ruling this week revealed that Jon Platt did not act lawfully when he removed his daughter from school during term time to take her on a holiday to Florida.
For schools and academies there has been a consistent ‘business as usual’ approach to their responsibilities around monitoring and managing attendance, but some local authorities have amended their practice around issuing penalty notices for unauthorised leave in term time, leaving a deficit between how schools are able to escalate their concerns.
The issue ultimately came down to Platt’s insistence that his daughter had ‘regular’ school attendance during the time that she was not in Florida. In fact, her overall attendance was 92%, which would likely be classed as poor in most schools’ escalations of interventions.
The case was funded by the DfE in an attempt to demonstrate their ongoing commitment to education. The ultimate decision was unanimous, with all the justices agreeing that the fine issued by the Isle of White Council in April 2015 was lawful.
Deputy President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, stated, “If one pupil can be taken out whenever it suits the parent, then so can others ... 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 costs or inconvenience to themselves.”
This ruling will come as a relief to most schools, who have long understood that good attendance is axiomatic to good attainment. These schools have found themselves in a void between best practice, requesting statutory action when children are unnecessarily taken out of school, and an ever-growing reluctance from local authorities to issue penalty notices and possible challenges without clarity. Some circular letters have been sent by local authorities to schools informing them that whilst official protocols are unchanged, practice around issuing penalty notices has been amended until the outcome of the Supreme Court Ruling. Many schools have been left feeling vulnerable in the media storm that has fuelled parents’ misunderstandings about school attendance and changes in practice from local authorities.
So what can schools do other than legal action?
Most schools have the authority to set their own term dates and parents can be helped greatly by high schools and linked primary schools ensuring their breaks are at the same time and, where possible, avoiding the more conventional weeks, where holiday companies may drive up their prices. Ensure that these are available as early as possible so that families have plenty of notification to avoid booking holidays during term time. These should be on your school’s website and regularly in correspondence to families.
Identify families who may have previously had unauthorised leave and work with them to ensure that they do not repeat the pattern.
Make sure that your attendance policy and communications to families clearly state your attendance expectations and the possible consequences if children are taken out of school without authorisation. These could include lost learning, statutory action and social implications. Include the procedures for requesting leave of absence and a possible proforma for a request which states the dates requested, return dates, whether it is authorised or not and a landline contact number during the absence.
‘Holidays’ during term time should either be referred to as ‘leave of absence authorised by the school only for exceptional circumstances’ (C code), or ‘unauthorised leave in term time’ (G code).
If the parents did not apply for leave of absence in advance, the absence must be recorded as unauthorised. This will avoid confusion about what is right and acceptable and what is a breach of school rules and DfE guidance. The H code should only be used to authorise a holiday in term time if there are exceptional circumstances and a request has been made in advance. The number of days that the pupil can be away from school is at the headteacher’s discretion.