With Easter just around the corner, parents may be preparing to take their children on a family getaway and it could be tempting to beat peak prices by taking their children out of school a little early, only to find that they’ve been given a hefty fine by the Department of Education.
Last month, the Department of Education published its yearly figures on school absenteeism, and the results were surprising. The report, Pupil absence in schools in England: 2017 to 2018, highlights that unauthorised absence from school is the highest it has been since records began. Interestingly, fines related to unauthorised absences have also risen by a staggering 93% from the previous year.
So what does the law say about taking your child out of school during term time? Hannah Parsons, Principal Associate Solicitor at DAS Law outlines the do’s and don’ts of term-time holidays.
How can I legally take my child out of school during term time?
The legalities of when a child must attend school and enforcement of the law in this area depends on the Local Education Authority (LEA) and also whether you are in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. Private schools are also able to set their own rules.
In order to have consent from the school, a written application must be made in advance addressed to the head teacher of the school. Only inexceptional circumstances will a head teacher authorise absence during term time. These include:
- Acute family trauma;
- Terminal illness or death of a family member;
- If a family member serves in the armed forces.
The decision of when to grant an authorised absence and for how long ultimately lies with the head teacher. In England and Wales, head teachers must submit details of each child’s attendance to the local authority and can make recommendations for sanction where attendance is low or absence is unauthorised.
Are there specific circumstances where the school has to approve a request to take a child out of school?
The only current exceptions where a child can miss school lawfully are when the child is too ill to attend school, or if the parent has had advance consent from the school rendering their absence as “authorised”.
Guidance issued by the Department for Education defines “authorised absence” as “approval in advance for a pupil of compulsory school age to be away, or has accepted an explanation offered afterwards as justification for absence”.
It is unlikely that a parent being unable to take holidays outside of the school term would be enough to be granted authorised absence, unless the parents in question are armed forces personnel with restrictions to term time only holidays.
If my child is in college (16 to 18 years old), do we still have to request to take them out of school during term time?
The rules in relation to the parent’s obligations to ensure a child’s attendance at school only apply to children who are of compulsory school age. This in effect means between the ages of 5 and 16 in England and Wales.
Everyone born on or after 1 September 1997 must stay in some form of education or training until they reach the age of 18. However as they are not of compulsory school age the obligations under the Education Act 1996 will not apply to them.
It would be best practice however to notify the school or college of the proposed holiday in term time to ensure that your child does not miss anything significant in terms of the syllabus or examinations.
If the school rejects my request to take my child out of school, how do I appeal the decision?
Unless your request is for one of the reasons explained above and amounts to exceptional circumstances, any appeal is likely to be difficult to establish.
However, should you wish to appeal, you should first approach the head teacher and if that is unsuccessful or not appropriate, ultimately the local education authority would be your next route of appeal.
If I take my child out of school during term time and receive a fine, do I have to pay?
The local authority will decide whether to issue a fine or sanction with an order called a Penalty Truancy Notice. They have various powers that can be used, particularly where no good reason is given to justify the child’s absence. Sanctions are applied on a discretionary basis and include fines of £60, rising to £120 in the event of non-payment within 21 days. Notice of intended prosecution can be issued if payment is not made after 28 days.
If the case escalates to court action, and if found guilty, parents can end up with a criminal record, face a fine of up to £2,500, and even imprisonment of up to three months. Careful considerations therefore need to be made when deciding whether to argue against any penalty charges that are issued.
What can I do if I can’t afford to pay the fine?
Parents who decide not to or cannot pay the fine in a Truancy Penalty Notice could be prosecuted. If you are successfully prosecuted for a failure to ensure that a child attends school regularly it could lead to you having a criminal record, a very large fine or even community service, or at worst a prison sentence.
Ultimately, if you would struggle to pay any fine, the only way to completely avoid the above risks is to not take your child out of school during term time.
Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created.