Nearly £140,000 of taxpayers' money spent on term-time holiday court battle

Jon Platt
Jon Platt

Almost £140,000 of taxpayers’ money was spent pursuing a court case against a father who took his daughter on a term-time holiday, new figures show.

The government paid out the equivalent of six newly-qualified teachers’ salaries taking action against Jon Platt, originally from Northern Ireland, who lost a landmark legal battle at the UK’s highest court earlier this year over taking his daughter to Disney World during school time.

The case, which was closely watched by parents across the country, was taken to the Supreme Court by education chiefs after High Court judges backed a decision by local magistrates on the Isle of Wight that Mr Platt, a Coleraine native, had no case to answer over the unauthorised seven-day family trip to Florida in April 2015.

Costs obtained by the Press Association under Freedom of Information laws show that as of May 10, the Department for Education (DfE) bill for the court cases was £139,891.93. This would pay the wages of around six new teachers for a year.

The figures come as the case returns today to Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court.

The department, which had supported the Isle of Wight Council in bringing the case, said it was pleased the Supreme Court had agreed with its position and removed uncertainty around term-time trips for schools and councils.

But Mr Platt said he thought the money could have been better spent on education.

A breakdown shows that total costs incurred by the DfE were £53,654.90 – made up of £1,872 for the High Court case and £51,782.90 for the Supreme Court case.

In addition, the department reimbursed the Isle of Wight Council a total of £86,237.03.

This includes £71,606.03 for the Supreme Court case. The DfE agreed to meet the local authority’s reasonable costs of the Supreme Court appeal.

It also includes £14,631 to cover Mr Platt’s costs in the High Court proceedings, which the council had been ordered to cover.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “We are pleased that the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with our position and removed any uncertainty for schools and local authorities: no child should be taken out of school without good reason.

“As before, headteachers have the ability to decide when exceptional circumstances allow for a child to be absent. The evidence shows every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.”

Mr Platt said: “I have always maintained that I thought the costs of this have been a disgrace and the money would be much better spent on education.”

At the Supreme Court hearing in April, five justices unanimously allowed an appeal by education chiefs against an earlier ruling that Mr Platt had not acted unlawfully.

Mr Platt, who took his daughter on the Florida trip without the school’s permission, was prosecuted by Isle of Wight Council after he refused to pay a £120 penalty.

But local magistrates found there was no case to answer.

Two High Court judges in London upheld the magistrates’ decision, declaring Mr Platt was not acting unlawfully because his daughter had a good overall attendance record of over 90%.

The council urged the Supreme Court to overturn the High Court decision, saying it raised important issues over what constitutes ‘’regular attendance’’ at school.

The justices ruled in the council’s favour, in a judgment clarifying what ‘’regular’’ attendance at school means.

The original case now has to go back to be heard again by magistrates.