More than a hundred parents are being prosecuted per school day for taking their children out of school without permission, new figures have revealed on the eve of the Supreme Court’s ruling on term-time holidays.
According to the latest statistics provided by the Ministry of Justice, the number of people taken to court for unauthorised absences has surged by nearly two-thirds in just four years, with nearly 20,000 people now prosecuted annually.
Of those parents found guilty, 75 percent were handed fines, 26 were jailed, and 1041 were given community sentences, figures for 2014-15 show.
The crackdown on truancy, lead by the Department for Education, comes as the Supreme Court prepares to make its landmark ruling today on term time holidays.
It follows a long-running legal battle between father Jon Platt and the Isle of Wight council over his refusal to pay a £120 fine for taking his daughter on a seven-day trip to Disneyland Florida.
The case pits the 46-year-old businessman against the Department of Education, with the ruling expected to have far-reaching consequences for parents across the country.
Meanwhile, figures obtained through a series of freedom of information requests have revealed that 19,920 people were prosecuted in 2015 for failing to ensure their children attended school - equivalent to 105 cases for every day on the school calendar.
And according to the Cystic Fibrosis Holiday Fund, a group which raises money for children with the life-limiting illness, parents who take their sick children out of school during term time have also been prosecuted.
The figures mark a 61 percent increase since 2011, when Michael Gove, the then Education Secretary, vowed to curb the number of unauthorised absences in primary schools.
Whilst ministers insist that unauthorised absences must be stamped out, Mr Platt’s case, upheld by the High Court, has already forced councils across the country to change their truancy policies.
Under Department for Education guidelines, parents are only permitted to take their children out of school in “exceptional circumstances”, such as attending a family member’s funeral.
Should children fail to be granted absence, local councils are able to fine parents £60, rising to £120 if left unpaid for 21 days. Should the fine remain unpaid after 28 days, parents face a maximum fine of £2,500 or a three-month prison sentence.
Since their introduction, the number of successful prosecutions for truancy-related offences has risen sharply, with data for court cases in 2015 revealing that 75 percent of parents were found guilty.
However, in Mr Platt’s case, his legal team successfully argued that his daughter’s attendance - 92.3 per cent - did not contravene the stipulations of the Education Act 1996.
Speaking ahead of today’s judgement, Mr Platt said that if the Supreme Court rules in favour of the the Department for Education it would mean “that regularly attending school means attending every day, whenever the school demands it, 100 per cent attendance".
"That will criminalise 6-7 million parents," he added.
Should the Supreme Court rule in Mr Platt’s favour, however, the judgement would set the benchmark for future cases, meaning parents across the country may be permitted to take their children on term time holidays, so long as their attendance falls within the definition of “regular”.
Already, 35 councils have changed their policies, with 28 withdrawing fines in response to the highly publicised case.
However, a Department for Education spokesman said the Government’s position remained unchanged, adding that children should not be taken out of school “without good reason”.