Children missing school for holidays

A triumphant Mr. Platt emerging with his partner from the High Court

Everyone’s talking about it.

A father was taken to court because he took his daughter out of school for a family holiday during term time. He won the case.

Mr. Platt from the Isle of Wight was told he had ‘no case to answer’ when the High Court ruled on his refusal to pay a school fine this month. The initial £60 fine levied on him was for taking his daughters on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Florida. This amount was then doubled when he refused to pay. The school ended up having to pay his legal fees in excess of £14,000, instead of getting its £120 out of him. The judges took into account ‘the wider picture’ as the child had 93% attendance, and they did not think her education was adversely affected by this holiday.

It used to be that schools and head teachers had the freedom to allow students to take leave on a case-by-case basis. Now the doctrine imposed by the government states that the school has no say in the matter, and simply has to follow the rules and fine everyone. Since when has the State been more responsible for children’s education than their parents and teachers? Would your child’s whole life collapse if he missed a day or even a week of school, if he was otherwise doing alright at school?

Perhaps the ‘experts’ in government are not aware of just how forbiddingly expensive holidays can be when school is out. It puts a family holiday in August well out of the reach of most poor and middle-class families. Holidays are an important part of family bonding, and do much to improve work-life balance to bring about better mental and emotional well-being. The government considers 90% attendance the cut-off for truancy. If a child’s attendance is above this then getting time-off should depend on the relationship the parents have with the school.

Of course, there are parents who are not very good at doing what’s best for their kids. Parents who come drunk to drop their kids to school, or not even worse, keep them home because they have a hangover and can’t be bothered to get out of bed, are not acting in their kids’ best interests. In 2013, only a third of students on free meals got at least 5 good GCSEs, including English and Maths. Less-affluent parents tend to have kids that have the highest amount of truancy. And some people are saying that the High Court ruling has made it more difficult for schools to enforce consequences on such negligent parents. However, this is where trusting the school and teachers to make the right decision comes in.

Holidays are prohibitively expense when school is off

There have been other repercussions of this case already. Tour operators doubled their summer holiday rates leading up to the ruling. After the ruling however, family holidays booked during term time shot up, while those reserved during term time fell. This makes it clear that there are many people who want to show their kids a good time, and some of the world, without breaking the bank, and resent being told what to do. I thought we lived in an enlightened society in this country and not a police state. Now I’m not so sure.

Education has become more and more decentralised, as the government tries to push what should be its own responsibility over to schools, parents and communities. How can you say you are decentralising while being autocratic and centralised in your rules? This is a very good example of how things are being done not for the kids, but for the coffers of the powers-that-be. Decentralised education is supposed to ensure that schools can be run in a more localised way, being flexible enough to be sensitive to individual contexts and find customised solutions to problems. If this was indeed true, why was the previous rule changed when it did just that? Giving parents and schools all the responsibility but none of the authority is a sure fire way to bring about rebellion. And it looks like one has started…

What do you think about this rule and the ruling – if you are a parent and even if you are not one. Have you changed your holiday plans because of the ruling? Are you bitterly regretting all the absence fines you quietly paid when your child had perfectly good attendance? Do you think that the rule is right and protects the children who need better parenting? Let me know. I would love to hear your thoughts on this very relevant and interesting issue.