Isle Of Wight Dad Wins Court Battle Over School Fine

A father has won a court battle to avoid a criminal conviction after he refused to pay a £120 fine for taking his six-year-old daughter out of school to go on holiday to Florida.

Jon Platt, 44, was issued with the fine by the Isle of Wight Council after he took his family on the trip, which included a visit to Walt Disney World, in April despite an absence request being rejected by the school.

He took his daughters, now aged seven and 10, and his stepson, aged six, for the eight-day trip which took them out of school for six days during term time.

The issue of the fine, which was originally £60 and then doubled because of his refusal to pay, went before the Isle of Wight Magistrates' Court on Tuesday and Mr Platt won his case.

He successfully argued that Section 444 of the Education Act required parents to ensure their children attended school ``regularly'', and did not put restrictions on taking them on holidays in term time.

Mr Platt, who runs a PPI claims company, said he paid £1,000 for legal advice for the case because he was ``adamant'' he had not committed a criminal offence.

He said: ``There has been precedent set in the High Court that says that unauthorised holiday in term time is not in itself a breach of the legislation if the child has attended school regularly.

``My daughter had 100% attendance and by the end of the year because of the holiday she had 94%, that cannot amount to a breach of legislation.''

Following the case being thrown out by the magistrates, Mr Platt said: ``I am not in the business of giving advice but all I can say is I believe entirely in the link between attendance and achievement.

``My children are doing well, their exam results are outstanding, because they attend regularly and if they were missing school for other reasons, they wouldn't be going on holiday.

``If they know they do well, they will go on these spectacular holidays.

``If parents are confident their child attends school regularly, they should have no fear of the consequences of taking them on holiday in term time.''

Mr Platt explained that the fine only applied to one of his daughters as the two other children are in private education.

Mr Platt described the actions of councils to penalise parents through fines and court action as ``malicious prosecutions'' aimed at ``scaring'' parents into obeying the Department for Education rules.

He added: ``I cannot allow a local education authority to tell me what is right for my kids - I know what is best for my kids.

``There is no complex loophole - parents have nothing to fear from LEAs (local education authorities) if your children have attended school regularly.

``LEAs are trying to use the legislation intended to stop truancy to stop parents taking their kids on holiday.''

Mr Platt said the family had a planned trip to go skiing in the Arctic circle and he was prepared to take the children out of school in term time again if they continue their high achievement and general attendance rates.

It is understood the court decided there was no case to answer.

A spokeswoman for the Isle of Wight Council said: ``We can confirm that the council, as local education authority, had proceeded with legal action in this case in accordance with the appropriate legislation, Department for Education regulations and guidance.

``We acknowledge the decision of the court in this matter - and the council is currently reviewing this outcome.''

A Department for Education (DfE) spokeswoman said that the Isle of Wight case did not act as a legal precedent and was solely the decision of the magistrates sitting for the case.

Mr Platt said he relied on a High Court case involving the London Borough of Bromley for legal precedence.

The DfE spokeswoman said: ``It is a myth that missing school even for a short time is harmless to a child's education. Our evidence shows missing the equivalent of just one week a year from school can mean a child is significantly less likely to achieve good GCSE grades, having a lasting effect on their life chances.

``Heads and teachers are now firmly back in charge of their classrooms, and most recent figures show we have made real progress - with 200,000 fewer pupils regularly missing school compared with five years ago.''

The spokeswoman said that DfE guidance means that from September 1 2013, headteachers in England would not grant leave of absence during term time unless in ``exceptional circumstances''.

She said: ``It is for headteachers to determine how many days a pupil can be away from school if the leave is granted and it's right that we trust them to decide when to grant time off. Previously, headteachers could grant leave for the purpose of family holiday in 'special circumstances' for up to 10 school days leave per year (longer in exceptional circumstances) this was not an entitlement to a two week holiday.''

She explained that it was up to councils to take action where necessary with fines of £60 to be paid within 21 days or £120 within 21 days.

The spokeswoman said that the absence rate was down from 6% in the 2009/10 academic year to 4.4% in the 2013/14 academic year.

She said: ``Some 14.5 million fewer school days were lost to overall absence - 42.5 million days were missed in 2013/14 due to absence, compared to 57 million missed in 2009/10. This figures are over five half terms.

``Parents should never simply discount a possible penalty notice from the cost of a cheaper holiday. When taking children out of school without permission, parents are risking prosecution, which could mean much higher financial penalties and a criminal record.''

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