A recent High Court ruling seemed to have cleared things up a little when they reversed the decision to fine a father for taking his daughter on a term-time holiday because no evidence had been produced to prove that his daughter had failed to attend school "regularly".
But since then the local council, backed by the Department for Education (DoE), has been told they can now apply to the Supreme Court for permission to appeal.
So, what’s the law today?
In England, Section 444 of the Education Act states that “if a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at the school; his parent is guilty of an offence.”
Regular attendance is not explicitly defined in the Education Act. However based on the words ordinary meaning and various court adjudications, “regular attendance” means that a “a pupil is required to attend school for every day that the school is open” apart from authorised absences.
According to the Department for Education, authorised absence can be when "they’re too ill to go in" or "you’ve got advance permission from the school”.
The school and local councils have got legal powers to enforce school attendance.
“Your local council can give you a fine of £60, which rises to £120 if you don’t pay within 21 days. You may be prosecuted if you don’t pay the fine after 28 days.”
Why do parents risk it?
The main cause for complaint is the increased cost of going of away during school holidays, when prices are often hiked. Many parents simply decide to take their children out of school, and view the fine as part of their holiday costs.
But government argues that "every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil's chance of gaining good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances".
What is it like elsewhere in the UK?
The rules are slightly different in other parts of the UK. In Wales, “the Education […] Regulations 2010 state that head teachers have a discretionary power to authorise leave for a family holiday during term time where parents seek permission”.
In Scotland, “schools will not normally give a family permission to take pupils out of school for holidays during term-time.” Without a reasonable explanation for the child’s absence, the education authority does not send a £60 fine but can issue an “attendance order” which gives the parent a duty to ensure their child’s good attendance. “The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 states that if a parent has not complied with an Attendance Order, an application may be made to the Sheriff Court for prosecution […]. If convicted, a parent may be fined (not exceeding […] £1000), imprisoned for up to one month, or both fined and imprisoned.”
In Northern Ireland, the rules are again different. Failing to make sure your child attends school regularly can result in parents getting referred to Education Welfare Officer (EWO). “The initial response to a referral of a pupil by a school to EWS is a home visit. This provides the Education Welfare Officer (EWO) with an opportunity to assess whether the absence is condoned by parents and if they are in a position to ensure regular attendance. […] Parent Only Prosecutions are used as a last resort where parents fail to engage with the service and continue to ignore their child’s educational and welfare needs. […] In the Magistrates Court the maximum fine that can be imposed is £1,000 in respect of each child who is missing school”.
If you want to find out more on the subject, one of many useful links is here.
This information is not the view of Computershare, if you have any queries on this matter please contact your local education authority or visit https://www.gov.uk/school-attendance-absence