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Parents cannot authorise absences; only schools can do this. Head teachers have discretion to grant leave during school term time, but this is not an automatic entitlement. The law governing such leave of absences was tightened up from September 2013.

Under current regulations, head teachers may not grant leave of absence during term-time unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Department for Education guidance summarises the legal powers and duties that govern school attendance, and explains how they apply to local authorities, head teachers, school staff, governing bodies, pupils and parents.  Code H: leave of absence for the purpose of a family holiday granted by the school (p58) states:

215. Parents should plan their holidays around school breaks and avoid seeking permission from schools to take their children out of school during term time unless it is absolutely unavoidable.

216. An application for leave of absence should (and from certain schools must) not be granted unless it is made in advance by a parent the pupil normally lives with and the school is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances based on the individual facts and circumstance of the case which justify the leave. Where a leave of absence is granted, the school will determine the number of days a pupil can be absent from school. A leave of absence is granted entirely at the headteacher’s discretion.

The impact of the Supreme Court judgment

On 6 April 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Jon Platt, a father from the Isle of Wight who had refused to pay a fine for taking his daughter out of school for a holiday during term-time.

Previously, in May 2016, the High Court had ruled in favour of Mr Platt, who refused to pay a £120 fine for taking his daughter on holiday to Disney World in April 2015, causing her to miss seven days of lessons, despite her school having refused permission for her absence.

Following an initial ruling by magistrates in Mr Platt’s favour, the Isle of Wight Council appealed the case to the High Court.

The Department for Education provided support to the Isle of Wight Council in their subsequent appeal to the Supreme Court against the High Court judgment. The appeal was heard in January 2017.

As a result of the judgment, the existing rules remain in place.

What fines can be m​​ade?

The amount of the fine depends on how quickly it is paid:

  • Parents have to pay a fine £60 if paid  within 21 days
  • This rises to £120 if paid within 22 to 28 days of the notice being issued
  • If the fine is not paid the parent can be prosecuted. Both parents may be fined for the same absence

Penalty notices can only be issued by a head teacher or someone authorised by them (a deputy or assistant head authorised by the head teacher), a local authority officer or the police. Penalty notices can be issued to each parent liable for the attendance offence or offences.

Can parents appeal ​a fine?

No. There is no right of appeal against a penalty notice.

What if parents refu​​se to pay?

If parents refuse to pay, the local authority must decide either to prosecute for the original offence to which the notice applies, or withdraw the notice.

What if a local authority ​​​decides to prosecute?

Local authorities have the power to prosecute parents who fail to ensure their child’s regular attendance at a school (section 444 of the Education Act 1996).

Section 444 has two separate but linked offences:

  • Section 444(1): where a parent fails to secure the child’s regular attendance; and
  • Section 444(1A) where a parent knows that the child is failing to attend school regularly, and fails to ensure the child does so.

These offences also apply if a local authority or governing body has arranged alternative provision for a child (i.e. education outside of mainstream settings).

There are statutory defences for parents to use under the 1996 Act: these relate to “reasonable justifications” for an absence, such as illnesses and the observation of religious holidays.

If parents are found guilty of the section 444 (1) offence, a court can apply a level 3 fine of up to £1,000.

If they are found guilty of the section 444 (1A) offence, the fine is at level 4, up to £2,500. The court can also sentence them to imprisonment for up to three months.

Any constituent facing a prosecution would need to seek professional legal advice.

What happens to the money ​​paid in fines?

Local authorities must use the money received to administer the penalty notice system, with any excess money being paid to the Secretary of State.

What are the rules in other parts of the UK? ​​​​​​


In Scotland, the legislation governing school holidays is worded in similar terms. In terms of Section 25(1) of The Education (Scotland) Act 1980, an offence occurs where a child of school age “fails without reasonable excuse to attend regularly at the said school”.

In 2019 the Scottish Government updated Included, engaged and involved part 1: promoting and managing school attendance  which advises the following on holidays during term time:

[…]Family holidays should not be recorded as authorised absence, other than in exceptional circumstances, where a parent’s employment is of a nature where school-holiday leave cannot be accommodated. Such employment may include armed services, emergency services, professions where parents are required to work away from the family for prolonged periods of time. It is for education authorities and schools to determine their own context and assess when these circumstances apply and authorise absence accordingly. However, the majority of family holidays, if taken during term time, should be recorded as unauthorised.

The categorisation of most term-time holidays as unauthorised absence is an on-going contentious issue due to the higher cost of holidays during school holiday periods. The Scottish Government recognises the importance of family holidays but has no control over the pricing decisions of holiday companies or flight operators. Attendance is one of the five key drivers for raising attainment as part of the Scottish Attainment Challenge. Our main focus is therefore to encourage parents and children and young people to recognise the value of learning and the potential impact of disrupting learning for the child or young person and the wider school community.

It also says, ‘There is no clear evidence that legal sanctions improve school attendance.’


In January 2017, Welsh Education Minister Huw Lewis wrote to councils following a petition by parents to say that it was wrong to tell head teachers to ban all term-time leave.

According to his reading of the 2010 regulations, head teachers in Wales have a discretionary power to authorise leave for a family holiday during term time where parents seek permission.

Parents can be fined if their child’s absence from school is unauthorised.​

The Welsh Government’s 2010 guidance (PDF) explains that:

Parents should not normally take pupils on holidays in term time and parents must apply for the leave in advance of taking it. Each request for holiday absence should be considered individually, taking account of: the age of the child; the time of year proposed for the trip; its nature and parental wishes; the overall attendance pattern of the pupil; the child’s stage of education and progress; and whether circumstances warrant it. Schools should invite parents to discuss any proposed holiday in term time.

Schools can only agree to absence for a family holiday if they believe there are special circumstances which warrant it. They can only agree to absence of more than 10 school days in a school year if they believe there are exceptional circumstances.

Northern Ireland

The Northern Irish Executive recommends that parents should avoid taking their children on holiday during term time. It advises that the majority of family holidays taken during term time will be categorised as an unauthorised absence.

Only in very exceptional circumstances will a school agree to such a holiday, such as when it may be judged too important for the well-being and cohesion of the family, following serious or terminal illness, bereavement, or another traumatic event. Only school principals are empowered to agree to, and permit, such an absence.

Parents cannot be fined for unauthorised absences, but if a child’s attendance drops below 85% they could be referred to the Education Welfare Service.

Further information


The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.