Parliament Debates Term-time Holiday Fines

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The Law Of... taking your kids out of school

In response to a petition set up by a man fined for taking his children on holiday between cancer treatments, Parliament is debating the abolishment of term-time holiday penalties.

Parliament Debates Term-time Holiday Fines

Due to his course of treatment, father-of-two David Hedley was only able to book a holiday during the school term, resulting in him and his wife being fined by their local council.

He set up an online petition to call for the term-time holiday penalties to be scrapped, attracting well in excess of the 100,000 needed to trigger a debate in Parliament. As Westminster discusses the topic, Julie Robertson, a Partner at Simpson Millar, takes a look at term-time holidays.

What Does the Law Say About Term-time Holidays?

Section 444 of the Education Act makes it an offence to fail to ensure your child attends school 'regularly'.

As it stands, the 2013 guidelines issued by the Department for Education state that a child can only miss school in 'exceptional circumstances'. Although there is no detailed guidance to explain what these 'circumstances' are, it is generally taken as meaning illness, bereavement, funerals or observing certain dates in the religious calendar.

What Are the Penalties for Taking a Child on a Term-time Holiday?

A £60 Fixed Penalty Notice is issued per child, per parent to be paid within 21 days. After 21 days it rises to £120, with an additional 7 days in which to pay. Failure or refusal to pay within this timeframe results in a summons to the Magistrates' Court. Fines are only issued for unauthorised absences in excess of 5 consecutive days.

On What Grounds is Court Action Taken?

If you receive a court summons, it will be on the grounds of failing to secure your child's regular attendance.

How 'regular attendance' is interpreted is another grey area and it was thanks to this lack of a clear definition that another father successfully overturned the fines in court. This has led to some LEAs abolishing the Penalty Notices altogether, although it has since emerged that the council in question has been granted permission to appeal the ruling.

Why Were the Rules Changed?

Up until 2013 it was possible to take your child out of school for up to 10 days at the Head Teacher's discretion. With prices unaffordable for many during the school holidays, this allowed parents to take advantage of the cheaper, term-time holiday rates. Ministers, however, disagreed and sought to abolish the previous government's measure, stating there was 'clear evidence' that absence impairs children's attainment and that pupils should attend school every day.

Julie Robertson comments:

"The case of the father who brought about this petition is particularly tragic and should be a wakeup call to Parliament that the system of fining parents of children who have otherwise excellent attendance records isn't working."

"Attendance alone does not guarantee a child will thrive academically, nor does missing a few classes prevent them from succeeding."

"At the moment we have parents taking their children out of school regardless, the savings made on the cost of the holiday being greater than the £60 fines. This, however, can be a risky strategy, as the fines are actually issued as an alternative to prosecution, meaning the LEA would be within its rights to skip the fee and take a parent directly to court. If found guilty, the parent would then be burdened with a criminal record, and could face a fine of up to £2,500 or an actual jail sentence of up to 3 months."

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