No let-up in battle to stop term-time holidays

Jon Platt
Jon Platt

Wigan parents who thought they might get away with taking their children out of school for holidays after a landmark court case should think again.

For the borough’s council today said that it would continue to use fines as an ultimate sanction against unauthorised absences on advice from Westminster and local government chiefs.

This is despite some local authorities’ deciding to cease persuing parents over term-time holidays while an appeal process continued against Jon Platt.

He is the Isle of Wight dad who refused to pay a £120 fine imposed by his council for taking his youngest daughter out of class for a family holiday and the penalty was then overturned at magistrates’ court, justices saying he had no case to answer because there was no evidence his daughter had not attended school regularly.

The decision was then upheld by the High Court last month.

It was argued that the girl’s overall attendance over the year had been above 94 per cent.

Mr Platt said he was also making a stand to highlight the extortionate increases in holiday prices during school breaks.

But supporters of the fining scheme aimed at deterring parents from taking their youngsters out of class said that Mr Platt was “showing contempt” for teachers - whose class plans are disrupted by having to play catch-up with the returned absentees - and setting a bad example to other parents.

The Government, concened that its crackdown on unauthorised term-time absences is under threat, is funding the Isle of Wight appeal against the Platt verdict.

The Local Government Association revealed the other day that councils across England appear split as to what to do next.

Some have decided to press on with their current regime of policing; others have decided that they will wait for the outcome of the appeal as there would be little point pursuing people for fines only for them to have to refund them if the verdict was upheld.

At Wigan Council it will be business as usual.

Alan Lindsay, the authority’s assistant director for education, said: “The Department for Education has written to all councils outlining their position following the ruling and as such we will be continuing with our current system at this time until any changes to guidance are issued.”

Unlike some councils Wigan Council do not instantly issue notices for holidays in term time.

Schools ask the council to issue a warning for all unauthorised absences of 10 sessions (a session being half a school day) or more regardless of whether they are for holidays in term time or just unauthorised absences during a particular period.

At the end of the three-week warning period schools inform the council which pupils have had further unauthorised absences and ask the council to issue the fine.

Meanwhile the General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, Russell Hobby, has claimed Government intervention is needed to stop dramatic increases in the cost of going away in the summer holidays.

He said: “The Government should take steps to address the price hikes that we see at holiday time. If the cost increases were not so dramatic, parents would not feel the need to seek cheaper deals in term time.”