Taking your children out of school during term time could land you in detention

2nd September 2021

With the huge rise in staycations and the dramatic increase in cost of holidays in the UK, an increasing number of parents will be tempted to take their children out of school to benefit from cheaper deals that can be found by holidaying during term time.

However, by doing so, parents run the risk of heavy fines and potentially even imprisonment.  According to a BBC report, during the 2017/2018 academic year, Local Education Authorities in England issued almost 223,000 fines for children being taken out of school for term-time breaks – a rise of 93% on the previous year.

Molly-Ellen Turecek from DAS Law explains the circumstances that permit an absence during term time and the penalties parents can face if they are found not to have complied with the law.

What is the legal position on when children can be taken out of school?

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.

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.”

How do parents get permission for a child to be taken out of school during term time?

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 in exceptional circumstances will a head teacher authorise absence during term time, including:

  • acute family trauma
  • terminal illness or death of a family member
  • if a family member serves in the armed forces

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.

What powers do local authorities have and what is their part in the process?

The decision 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.

When a request is submitted, the local authority will decide whether to issue a fine or sanction with an order. 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.

What happens if a case is pursued through the courts?

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 consideration therefore is needed when deciding whether to argue against any penalty charges that are issued.

Molly-Ellen Turecek, Legal Advisor with DAS Law said: “Children missing school to go on holiday conflicts directly with the responsibility of schools to ensure proper attendance levels.

“Each individual circumstance is considered on a case-by-case basis, and providing the child has a good attendance, it seems that it would be unlikely that less than five days absence would be a cause for concern. However, the ultimate decision remains with the head teacher and local authority to ascertain whether a sanction would be necessary and this would generally be established by the overall attendance of the child for the academic year.”

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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. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.

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