The Supreme Court has decided that a parent commits a criminal offence on any occasion where his or her child does not attend the school at which s/he is registered unless one of the express statutory excuses is satisfied (sickness or unavoidable cause, permission of the Head Teacher, or a day of religious observance). Speaking for the Court, Baroness Hale stated that a child fails to attend ‘regularly’ for the purposes of section 444(1) of the Education Act 1996 if s/he has failed to attend in accordance with the school’s rules.
It had been argued that the effect of such an interpretation would criminalise thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of parents who took their children out of school for the occasional day, or several days, for good reasons but where permission for absence had not been granted by the Head Teacher. The Court’s response was that this problem could be addressed by ‘a sensible prosecution policy’, including the use of fixed penalty notices for offending parents.
The parent concerned in this case – Jon Platt – will now have his case returned to the Magistrates Court with a direction to proceed as if his submission of no case to answer (which the Justices had upheld, as had the Divisional Court) had been rejected.
Clive Sheldon QC and Paul Greatorex appeared in the Supreme Court on behalf of Mr. Platt.