Are you going to take your children on holiday in term time and risk being fined or prosecuted?
Up until 2013, children were allowed 10 days of absence during term time for holidays in special circumstances. However, the government changed this and children are now only allowed to be absent in “Exceptional circumstances,” such as a family bereavement. So can a family holiday ever qualify as an exceptional case?
Looking at recent evidence it would seem not. Currently taking your child on holiday in school time is very likely to result in you being fined or even prosecuted, resulting in a criminal record or prison sentence.
Is this a reasonable price to pay to ensure school attendance? Or is this an overzealous approach by government?
Many parents think the latter and are increasingly refusing to pay. In some cases this has forced local authorities to pursue prosecution.
How do term time holiday fines work?
Court support for Term Time Holiday Fines
It seems the Courts too now have their doubts about criminalising unauthorised school absence.
In a spate of recent cases the lower and higher courts have found that the current legislation is not enforceable.
The law 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” but does not define ‘regularly’. Conversely pupils who miss around 10% of school sessions, whether the absence is authorised or unauthorised, are considered “persistent absentees”. Thus resulting in the interpretation that 10% absence is acceptable and still within the ambit of ‘regular attendance’. However, in effect what the government is saying is that any day of unauthorised absence is a criminal offence.
Consequently, when parents have been prosecuted for an unauthorised holiday in term time which hasn’t resulted in their child’s absence dipping below 90% the courts have found the children are still deemed to be attending school regularly, taking into account their general school attendance.
Following a recent High Court case Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirwall upheld this “wider picture” rationale. “I do not consider it open to an authority to criminalise every unauthorised holiday by the simple device of alleging that there has been no regular attendance in a period limited to the absence on holiday” Lloyd Jones said.
The Department for Education has said it will “change the law…..and strengthen statutory guidance to schools and local authorities.”
The question remains: when will you take your children away this summer?
It will be interesting to see if and how swiftly the law is tightened up in this area and whether sanctions will be enforced in the interim.
Your Next Steps
If you would like to speak to a family solicitor about school holiday rules, fill out an enquiry form and we’ll be in touch. You can also call us on 01273 604 123 to arrange an appointment, or book an appointment online.