Term-time holiday ruling poses 'significant threat' to attendance drive, says Nick Gibb
The government will do "everything in its power" to stop children being taken out of school for unauthorised term-time holidays after a High Court ruled in favour of a father who took his daughter to Florida, schools minister Nick Gibb has said.
Earlier this month, the High Court backed Jon Platt after he refused to pay a fine for taking his daughter out of school without permission.
Mr Gibb said the ruling represented a "significant threat" to the government's drive to keep children in school.
He spoke as new official figures showed overall school absence rates are falling, but the number of pupils missing school for unauthorised family holidays has increased by 12 per cent in a year.
The minister warned that the UK must not return to a "Dickensian world where the needs of industry and commerce" trump the need to educate amid fears that the current system of school holidays hurts the tourism industry.
Mr Platt was fined by Isle of Wight Council after he took his family on the holiday, which included a visit to Walt Disney World, without the permission of his child's school.
The father's legal victory has raised the prospect of more parents challenging the fines issued by schools.
Responding to an urgent question in the Commons, Mr Gibb said: "The High Court oral judgment represents a significant threat to one of the government's most important achievements in education over the last six years: improving school attendance.
"For this reason, the government will do everything in its power to ensure head teachers are able to keep children in school."
At the moment parents can get permission from a headteacher for a term-time absence, but only in "exceptional circumstances", such as the death of a relative.
Mr Gibb said that the desire to go on holiday to Disney World did not meet such a threshold.
He said: "The need to take time off school in exceptional circumstances is important but there are no special circumstances where a 10-day family holiday to Disney World should be allowed to trump the importance of school.
"The rules must and should apply to everyone. This is about social justice."
Mr Gibb spoke as the government released its latest pupil absence figures for state primaries and secondaries.
They show the overall absence rate has fallen from 4.4 per cent in autumn 2014 to 4.1 per cent in autumn 2015.
But the data also shows that 270,220 pupils skipped school during the autumn term last year to go on a family holiday that had not been agreed.
Over the same period in 2014 there were 241,290 such absences.
Commenting on the figures, education secretary Nicky Morgan said reforms to crack down on bad attendance were “working”.
She added: "We make no apology for wanting to see every child in the classroom and will continue to back our school leaders to crack down on persistent absence."