Parents who face fines for taking children on term-time holidays are to launch a legal class action against the councils who misled them, a law firm has revealed.
Solicitors at Simpson Millar told The Daily Telegraph they are preparing a group law suit against local authorities who allegedly issued misleading guidance to parents which seemed to say it was permissible to take children out of school without headteachers' approval.
The disclosure comes days after the Supreme Court ruled parents cannot take children on term-time holiday without the school’s authorisation, regardless of previous good attendance.
That decision had seemed to conclude a two-year legal battle between businessman Jon Platt and the Isle of Wight Council, after he refused to pay a £120 fine for taking his six-year-old daughter to Disneyland Florida.
During Mr Platt’s case, as many as 28 education authorities relaxed their truancy policy – despite explicit requests from central government not to do so – with several telling parents they would not be prosecuted so long as the child’s attendance was above a given threshold.
Now those authorities are reviewing their policies to reflect the Supreme Court ruling, meaning parents who were told last year that they could book term-time holidays, may now be prosecuted for taking them.
The councils involved said they had not intended to mislead and were now reviewing their guidance pending Department for Education clarification.
They include Wakefield Council, which said that 85 percent attendance would be considered “regular”; Trafford, which permitted 90 percent, and Derbyshire County Council, which said it would accept 94 percent.
Patrick Campbell, of Simpson Millar, said parents now faced being “punished retrospectively”, adding councils had left the door open to a wave of legal actions.
“This has created an unfair situation for parents who have sought guidance from their local authority and have relied on that guidance, only to be subsequently told that they could now be prosecuted,” he added.
“We have been contacted by a number of parents and are looking into a potential class action.”
The Department for Education said it had made its position clear to councils throughout Mr Platt’s legal battle, adding that it had continually stated that “no child should be taken out of school without good reason”.
At the time of the High Court ruling last year, Mr Gibb also wrote to councils and headteachers to advise that the High Court did not establish a “hard and fast rule” on whether attendance over 90 percent was grounds for them to avoid prosecution.
He said that he expected councils to “refuse” parents asking for a refund of previous fines they had been issued, adding that children should only be taken out of school in “exceptional circumstances”.
“I am clear that we need to continue reducing absence, building on the success schools and local authorities have already achieved, to support attainment and ensure all pupils fulfil their potential,” he added.