Term-time holiday father wins battle to overturn £120 fine

A father has won a court victory over his decision to take his daughter out of school for a holiday to Florida, paving the way for more parents to book family trips in term time.

Jon Platt’s seven-year-old daughter had a perfect attendance record before he took her on an eight-day trip to Disney World in April. It was the only time that they could go on holiday with 17 relatives.

He was fined £120 in line with a government crackdown on term-time holidays, but Mr Platt, 44, argued that his daughter’s attendance record before the holiday meant that he had met his legal duty to keep her in school “regularly”.

His case was due to be heard this week but magistrates halted the prosecution, saying that there was no case to answer and the fine was overturned.

The Department for Education, which made it harder for head teachers to approve holidays and increased fines in 2013, insisted that the decision would not set a precedent.

Mr Platt predicted that it would be seized on by other parents. Many have complained over inflexible rules which force their children to miss important events, or lead to extortionate costs as prices soar during the school holidays.

Mr Platt, who paid £1,000 in solicitors’ fees, said: “My kids’ education is absolutely critically important to me but I’m also responsible for their welfare. If I think it will do them the world of good to go on holiday… with the 17 people who love them the most in the world I will do that. If I thought my kids’ education would be affected I wouldn’t have taken them.”

Mr Platt, from the Isle of Wight, is divorced and shares custody of his two daughters. In April he took his younger daughter out of primary school for six days.

His other daughter, ten, attends a private school and there was no fine.

The head teacher of his younger child’s school refused to authorise her absence, as it did not meet the test of “exceptional circumstances”. A penalty of £60 doubled to £120 when he refused to pay in 21 days.

Mr Platt, who works for a family business that challenges banks over unfair charges and is part way through studying for a law degree, hired a solicitor. He argued that the 1996 Education Act required only that parents have a responsibility to ensure their children receive a full-time education by attending school “regularly”.

“I had to prove nothing — they just had to prove my child’s attendance was not regular. That’s all it says,” Mr Platt said.

“My understanding is the law doesn’t say anything about holiday time but most parents blink at the fine and pay the expense, even though a significant proportion of them are probably people whose kids actually attend school regularly.”

The Department for Education 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.”