Term time holidays: schools’ hotline FAQs

Practical Law Public Sector addresses the questions that schools may ask local authorities regarding day-to-day school management and sets out the legal issues to consider when responding:

This FAQ examines the regulation of holidays during term time. For all our school hotline queries, please see Practice note, Schools hotline FAQs

Q: Maggie’s parents took her on holiday during term time. Can the local authority fine her parents?

A: It will depend on whether Maggie’s parents did so with permission. Parents do not have an automatic right to remove their children from school during term time (see DfE: School attendance regulations amendments (15 April 2013)). While leave of absence might be granted for a term time holiday, it is granted entirely at the head teacher’s discretion, and is not a parental right.

Parents have a legal duty to make sure that their child aged 5-16, if registered at a school, attends that school regularly (section 7, EA 1996). They must therefore obtain permission if they want to take their child on holiday during term time. The granting of permission is discretionary and a head teacher can only do this if:

  • A parent the child normally lives with applies to the head teacher before the holiday (as far in advance as possible).
  • There are special reasons for needing to take the holiday, (for example, the parents’ holiday leave is inflexible).

Head teachers will judge each request for term-time holiday on a case-by-case basis, taking into account individual circumstances, such as the child’s attainment, attendance and ability to catch up on missed schooling and the proximity of key dates for tests and examinations. Primary schools allow twice the amount of time off for holidays and for religious observance than secondary schools do (see DfE: Persistent absence (PA) threshold reduction FAQs: What about holidays in term time? (March 2012)).

If Maggie’s parents failed to obtain permission, then the LA (or school) may issue a penalty notice if both of the below apply:

  • The LA’s code of conduct under regulation 14 of the 2007 regulations states that taking an unauthorised term time holiday is grounds for issuing a penalty notice.
  • The leave of absence for holiday was not authorised by the school.

It would be advisable to communicate with Maggie’s parents to obtain more information about an unauthorised absence before going ahead and issuing a penalty notice. Failure to pay a penalty notice could result in prosecution by the LA (see bbc.co.uk: Stewart and Natasha Sutherland fined for term-time holiday, 15 January 2014 and What can a local education authority do in a case of persistent unauthorised absence or poor behaviour at school?).

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