A father who took his daughter out of school during term time has lost his battle at the Supreme Court.
Issuing its judgment in Isle of Wight Council v Platt this morning, the court ruled in favour of the appellant, saying that the word ‘regularly’ when considering attendance means in accordance with ‘the rules prescribed by the school’.
The ruling means Jon Platt’s case will now return to the Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court.
The dispute hinged on section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996, which says that if a child of compulsory school age ‘fails to attend regularly’ then his or her parent is guilty of an offence.
Platt was taken to court by Isle of Wight Council for taking his daughter on a seven-day trip to Florida during the school term despite being refused permission by the head teacher.
Platt was fined £60 but did not pay the fine by the initial deadline, meaning the local authority doubled his penalty to £120. When he refused to pay the second fine he was prosecuted on the basis of an alleged failure to secure regular attendance. The council said this was in breach of the 1996 act.
The case made its way to the Supreme Court after both the magistrates’ court and the High Court ruled in Platt’s favour.
The magistrates’ court held that the daughter was a regular attender, with a 92.3% attendance rate. On appeal, the High Court found that the magistrates’ court was entitled to take into account attendance outside the offence dates when determining the attendance of the daughter.
However, handing down the judgment today, Lady Hale said the daughter’s attendance was plainly not ‘at regular intervals’ and that even though some earlier rulings implied that ‘sufficiently frequent’ attendence was the meaning assumed, ‘there are many reasons to think that this was not what parliament intended’ when it created the act.
She added: ‘Accordingly, the penalty notice was properly issued to Platt and, having not paid the penalty fine, he should have been convicted of the offence unless he can establish one of the statutory exceptions. The case is therefore returned to the magistrates with a direction to proceed as if his submission of no case to answer had been rejected.’
The Department for Education intervened in the case and is meeting the council’s legal costs.
A spokesperson for the department said: 'We are pleased the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with our position. As before, headteachers have the ability to decide when exceptional circumstances allow for a child to be absent but today’s ruling removes the uncertainty for schools and local authorities that was created by the previous judgment.
'The evidence shows every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances We will examine the judgment carefully and will update schools and local authorities as soon as possible so they are clear what the judgment means for them.'