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Can you book a term time holiday legally, without being fined?

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Rules imposed in 2013 make it very difficult for parents to legally take their children out of school for any other reason than them being too ill to attend.  There are some circumstances where a headteacher can give their permission for a child to be absent other than for sickness but, as a recent court battle showed, the rules have become very strict and they vary between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Before September 2013, a headteacher or principal could give their permission for a student to be absent from school for up to 10 days due to ‘special circumstances’.  This meant that parents could take their children out of school for holidays that were deemed to offer good educational experiences or for occasions like family parties or sporting events they were competing in.  It was entirely down to the head’s discretion.

“Students only allowed to take time off in ‘exceptional circumstances”

Although headteachers are still able to decide about whether a student can take an authorised absence, the rules now state that they can only allow students to take time off in ‘exceptional circumstances’.  These tend to include things like visiting very ill relatives, attending funerals of close family members or seeing a family member who has recently returned from service in the Armed Forces.  However, as holidays are so much more expensive during school holidays, some parents choose to take their child out of school regardless and face the consequences.

A case that ended up in the Supreme Court this year saw a father who took his daughter to Disney World during the school term and then refused to pay the fine ordered to pay £2,000 in costs after he lost his case.  The £60 fine imposed on this father would not have applied the same way if he had lived in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.  In Wales, the rules remain much as they were in England before September 2013 but parents can still be fined if they don’t obtain the headteacher’s permission.  In Scotland, local education authorities can issue ‘attendance orders’ to make a parent explain a pupil’s absence.  If the parents don’t comply or give a reasonable excuse, they can be taken to court and could face up to one month in prison and a fine of up to £1,000.  There are no fines for unauthorised absences in Northern Ireland but students with less than 85% attendance can be referred to the Education Welfare Service.  Private schools are completely exempt from these laws and have their own regulations for parents to abide by.

“The fine doubles to £120 if not paid within 21 days”

For parents in England who decide to bite the bullet and accept the fine for the sake of a significantly cheaper holiday, they will need to pay promptly because the fine doubles to £120 if they fail to pay within 21 days of the fine being issued.  If they continue to not pay after 28 days they can be taken to magistrates’ court under the Education Act 1996.  They could end up with a criminal record and face a fine of up to £2,500, court costs or even a jail sentence of up to three months if they’re found guilty by that court.  Another thing to consider is that this is a law rather than a rule which means, in theory, the local education authority could skip the fine and proceed straight to prosecution which would mean a much higher fine and a criminal record.

Aside from the legal implications of taking holidays during term time, there is also a great deal of research that suggests children’s education suffers too.  This gives parents a lot to think about when considering whether it is worth the risk or better just to wait until the school holidays.


Louise Boxall

Louise Boxall

Louise has 10 years experience in Travel Journalism, Blog Writing and Research in the Travel Insurance sector. Louise’s goal is to provide interesting, informative articles on subjects we know will interest our customers.

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