I feel conflicted about Jon Platt, the parent at the centre of the court case about unauthorised school absences. On the one hand, there’s much to admire. When he was fined £120 by Isle of Wight Council for taking his daughter on a trip to Disneyland during term time, he decided to fight back. He got the decision overturned in magistrates’ court, the council appealed to the High Court, the lower court’s decision was upheld, and the council then appealed to the Supreme Court. Yet in spite of this gruelling legal process, Mr Platt hasn’t backed down.
When interviewed on television, he seems genuinely angry about being told when he can and can’t take his children on holiday. He doesn’t regard himself as a deadbeat dad — his daughter’s attendance rate at school is above 90 per cent — but believes the new rules, which were introduced by the government in 2013, are too severe. Seen in this light, he’s a conservative hero: a doughty yeoman standing up for his liberty by taking on the overmighty state.
Having said all that, I don’t have much sympathy for his cause. I supported the government’s decision to introduce bigger fines for parents who take their children out of school without permission, not least because unauthorised absences make life more difficult for teachers. Having helped to set up four schools, I know that teachers think carefully about the sequence in which children should be introduced to the different units of study within each subject. They design schemes of work and plan lessons with this in mind. A child who skips a day of school — or worse, a week — may well have missed out an essential step. If a teacher is conscientious,
as the majority are, they will feel obliged to get the relevant worksheets to the child, explain to their parents what it is they’ve missed — and in some cases, give up their lunch break to sit down with the child and go over the material.