Council loses legal fight over term-time holidays

A group of parents prosecuted for taking their children out of school during term-time for holidays have been cleared in a landmark ruling.

Salisbury Magistrates Court
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The five accused, from three families, were taken to court for failing to ensure regular attendance for the pupils – despite all the children having exemplary records.

But all were found not guilty at Salisbury Magistrates’ Court in a ruling dubbed a ‘victory for common sense’.

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Two of those cleared were a husband and wife, of Swindon, Wiltshire, who took their seven-year-old daughter out of classes for five days for a holiday to Turkey.

‘It just happened to be the holiday we wanted and it was £1,500 cheaper.’ He said that despite his daughter’s attendance being roughly 97 per cent, four weeks after they returned they were sent a letter order them to pay a £60 fine.

The couple refused to pay the fine after hearing about other high profile parent victories and when prosecuted by the council.

The father-of-two said: ‘The law is there for a reason, for people who fail to ensure regular attendance.

‘It is not to fine parents that take a family holiday, but that is what it is being used for. We didn’t take the decision to fight it lightly.

The dad said he ‘breathed a sigh of relief’ when they were found not guilty.

Solicitor Michael Spoors, who represented the families, said all the children had attendance rates of over 95 per cent and missed classes for week-long holidays.

Mr Spoors said: ‘This case highlights that the courts are prepared to take a broader view. It was a victory for common sense given the percentages.

He said Swindon Borough Council’s argument that the children had poor attendance because it was below 90 per cent over a 12-week period was ‘novel’.

John Platt, another parent who won his battle, accused Swindon Borough Council of wasting thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money. He described the prosecutions as ‘outrageous’.

A Swindon Borough Council spokesperson said: ‘We are disappointed with the outcome of yesterday’s court hearings.

‘All of the parents, whose children are unrelated and at different schools, removed their children from school for the week before half-term for an unauthorised family holiday.

‘The children’s attendance was considered within a 12-week period and found to be 91%; the court has ruled that this did not constitute irregular attendance.’

Swindon Borough Council added, ‘we will need to reconsider the instances in which penalty notices will be issued’.

A Department for Education source said children’s attendance at school was ‘non-negotiable’.

They said: ‘We shall now look to change the law and strengthen statutory guidance.’