Do you take your children out of school for family holidays? If so, you’ll have been glued to the outcome of the case of Jon Platt in the High Court last Friday.
The Isle of Wight Council prosecuted Jon Platt for refusing to pay the fine issued by the school his daughter attended, after taking her out of school for a holiday in term time. The High Court ruled that because Jon Platt’s daughter had an attendance record of over 90% (below 90% is deemed as truancy) that the Isle of Wight Council could not impose the fine.
The law brought in two years ago to tackle truancy, gave schools discretion to impose a fine of £60 per child, per parent, for unauthorized absence. Families have been in uproar over this lasting legacy of former Education Secretary, Michael Gove, which impacts normal families attempting to escape soaring holiday prices, which kick in when term ends. For large families particularly, going on holiday during school holidays is out of the question due to ridiculously inflated prices, charged by holiday companies.
A by-product of the law has been a steady trickle of cash into Council coffers by thousands of families paying the fines. During the 2014/2015 academic year, 98 Local Education Authorities issued 50,414 fines for children being taken out of school for term-time holidays.
Whilst us parents are quietly ensconced in smug satisfaction this week, I genuinely feel sorry for schools who are left in limbo waiting to see which direction the government will turn next.
The question is - does a 2-week holiday really impact on a child’s education? And does it really affect the class & teacher as a whole?
I was interested to talk to some teachers on the subject. Whilst no teachers wished to go on record, the overwhelming response was that it genuinely depended on who the child was and what they were being taken out of school for. A family holiday bringing together closer family units can only be beneficial. Holidays abroad expose children to new experiences & cultures, which can be a profoundly positive & broadening experience.
The flip side teachers said, was that some children in the class might never have holidays, in term time or holiday time. So does a regular stream of children bounding out the school door on their jollies affect their self-esteem? Most probably yes.
Often, they said, children suffer no gaps to their education through a block holiday absence although this might not be the case moving higher through the education system. Regular non-attendance, a few days off here and there, was said to have a much more negative effect, where children may never catch up on fundamental work missed.
There’s no denying that this law affects millions of parents and is a hotly debated subject. For example, here in the hugely popular tourist destination of North Devon, a large percentage of parents work in the tourism industry. Peak season is July and August, which restricts when they can time their family holidays.
Proactive schools are looking at flexible fixes such as staggering school holidays allowing parents to avoid prohibitive holiday prices. But is it the holiday companies that should be in the firing line?
Will truancy kids always truant, regardless of fines imposed on families? What actually IS the success rate of turning truancy around in the UK derived from this law? And what will the Government now do to close the loophole of attendance levels? These are the questions that will shape the law reform & will inevitably impact family holidays again once the Government announces its next measures.
For now, at least, families can take Friday’s precedent ruling as a green light to book their holidays without fear of term time reprisal.
What’s your view?
The Family Freestylers are us - the Nixon family, who relish travel adventures both near & far