School term-time holidays | Education Law | Term-time absence

Please, Miss – school term-time holidays

The big question – can parents take children on holidays outside school term dates?

Dealing with requests from parents to take children out of school for family holidays can be difficult for schools and academies. On the one hand, head teachers do not want to appear inflexible, especially if a child is otherwise performing and attending well; on the other, the potential for disruption to that child and his or her classmates means that the request may not be as straightforward as some parents believe.

The Department for Education (DfE) is keen to discourage term-time holidays in schools and academies, although the legal position for head teachers has not always been clear. This article is a brief guide to the law and how to manage requests from parents.

The legal position

Teachers were previously able to allow children to be taken out of school for family holidays but, in 2013, the Government introduced regulations restricting this discretion.

The guidance from the DfE is that:

  • it is for schools and academies, not parents, to approve a child's absence
  • approval for term-time absence will only be granted in exceptional circumstances
  • Approval for a family holiday is unlikely to be considered 'exceptional'

Parents who breach the rules may be fined £60 by the local authority or, in some cases, the school, rising to £120 for late payment. If a parent refuses to pay the fine, he or she may be prosecuted, leading to a potential fine of £1,000, a community service order or, in extreme cases, imprisonment of up to three months.

Term-time holidays in the courts

The highly-publicised case in which a father, Jon Platt, challenged the Isle of Wight Council over the fine he received for taking his daughter on an unauthorised holiday to Disneyland, gathers up the legal and policy arguments. Mr Platt had sought authorisation for the holiday and, when this was refused, went ahead anyway. He argued, among other things, that the regulations unfairly disempowered parents.

The Supreme Court concluded that unauthorised term-time holidays disrupted the education of individual children and their classmates, and that allowing some parents licence to bend the rules was unfair on the majority.

How should head teachers respond to requests for term-time absence?

Requests of this kind can represent a challenge for teachers, as parents sometimes feel that there is no harm in a term-time holiday and that the rules are uncompromising.

Head teachers should make it clear that, irrespective of a child's attendance record, their ability to give authorisation is restricted by the law. To fall within the definition of 'exceptional circumstances', absences will generally need to be unavoidable, short and for reasons beyond the control of the family, and the DfE has been clear that family holidays will not usually fit these criteria.

The response to a request should point out that the potential for disruption goes beyond the individual child and that it is important to maintain a fair system for all pupils, staff and parents. It may also be helpful to direct parents to the school's absence policy.

There is an argument that some parents may view the fine as a 'tax' on term-time holidays and simply take the hit. While this is not something a school can control, it is helpful to discourage a culture of paying to bend the rules. In the wake of the Platt judgment, schools may choose to clarify the current legal position with all parents.

If you would like further information, please contact our education law specialist Russell Holland at russell.holland@michelmores.com.

Our education law team specialise in advice to schools and academies and we are unable to accept instructions from individual parents.