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Term time holidays: not so bad after all?

As Judges throw out two prosecutions of parents who chose to taken their children on holiday during term time - family lawyer at Keystone Law Claudie Paddick, looks at the implications for families taking term-time holidays.

In the last few days, two sets of parents who were facing prosecution for taking their children out of school during term time have had their cases thrown out by Magistrates who found that there was ‘no case to answer’. Two different couples were taken to court after council officers in Swindon accused them of failing to maintain regular school attendance for their children because they had chosen to pull them out of class, Magistrates now say that the cases cannot proceed because there is no legal benchmark for what amounts to 'persistent' absence.

Swindon Council initiated legal proceedings against the couples after they allegedly failed to maintain an attendance record for their children that was above the Government’s 90 per cent benchmark. But, with the court deciding that the cases couldn’t go ahead because a legal benchmark didn’t exist, what can parents expect if they decide to take the risk and book a holiday during their child’s school year?

Current law

In 2013, strict rules including fines and potential jail time were introduced by the Government in a bid to combat absences in state schools. Between the ages of five to and sixteen, children must attend school regularly and are not permitted to miss school during term time. At one time, ‘special circumstances’ could be cited but this was then changed to ‘exceptional circumstances’ in 2013. It is at the discretion of the school’s head teacher as to what might constitute exceptional circumstances but it is usually very unlikely to be a family holiday. A death in the family or a parent on leave from the armed forces is more the kind of situation that is usually considered. Unacceptable time off is always decided on an individual basis, with state schools and head teachers being obligated to report cases to the local council. And parents should be warned that just because recent cases have seen the lines blurred, it doesn’t mean they can afford to be lax about booking term-time holidays. If a local authority feels that a parent should be punished for removing their child from school “unnecessarily”, a fine of £60 per child can be issued. If you do not pay the fine within 28 days and you are taken to Court and found guilty, this can be increased to £2,500. Parents can also face a criminal record with a potential sentence of up to three months.

The verdict

Although this is a great result for those seeking to take their children out of school during term time, it doesn’t help provide clarity as to the right course of action in individual circumstances. Ultimately, I deal with these issues in the context of a divorce or separation and in those circumstances the court can be expected to grant orders which support the children remaining in school during term time. Parents have a responsibility to make sure that their children’s educational needs are met and this is a primary consideration when considering the welfare of the child within a family law context.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.

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