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A welcome slap in the face from the Magistracy for the Education nomenklatura

A gentleman living on the Isle of Wight took his school-age daughter on holiday to Florida in term time. The child’s absence from school was noted…

The Local Education Authority issued him with a fixed-penalty notice for £60, for failing to ensure that his child attended school regularly. He refused to pay this ‘penalty’ (a bureaucratic alternative to prosecution). The ‘fine’ was doubled (by the bureaucrats) to £120, he refused to pay, so he was summonsed to the Magistrates’ Court by the authority to face a charge under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996 (from John Major’s time).

Sure enough, he argued, my daughter wasn’t in school, big deal. The offence was not made out. Here is the wording in question.

Offence: failure to secure regular attendance at school of registered pupil.

(1)If a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at the school, his parent is guilty of an offence.

So, for those (many) parents harassed, threatened and fined by bureaucrats, they have been acting as if the law required total attendance at school.

The rule of law has prevailed, the offence was not made out, on the prosecution’s case, the case failed. What troubles me is that I find that, in England in 2015, refreshing.

But as Mrs Thatcher once said ‘Just rejoice at that news!‘.

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30 comments to A welcome slap in the face from the Magistracy for the Education nomenklatura

  • Cristina

    Public health and mandatory “education”, especially the public one, are the two most evil inventions of progressivism.

  • Fred Z

    The troubling thing is that nobody has taken a sword, bludgeon, tar or feathers to the bureaucrats and prosecutors involved.

    I am not happy about it, but killing time is near at hand.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    “The rule of law has prevailed, the offence was not made out”. I love those words. Quite like old times. How good to see a magistrate who refuses to go beyond the plain meaning of the words in the statute book.

    And well done, Jon Platt, a responsible parent who has set a splendid example to his daughter in standing up to bullies.

    The Guardian version of the same story quotes some prime nonsense from the educrats:

    “It is a myth that missing school even for a short time is harmless to a child’s education,” a DfE spokesperson said. “Our evidence shows missing the equivalent of just one week a year from school can mean a child is significantly less likely to achieve good GCSE grades, having a lasting effect on their life chances.”

    You’ll be sending out an edict to forbid all the school ski trips, then?

  • Dom

    I’m missing something. It sounds like the plain meaning of law is that the father IS guilty. Or do I not understand what is meant by, “the offense was not made out”?

    Or is the whole “refreshing” idea just that the judge thought it was silly to fine him?

  • Runcie Balspune

    £60, or even £120. You can make that up just on the flight alone outside school holiday time, never mind any accommodation costs. Hardly a discouraging sum.

  • Mr Ed

    Dom,

    (1)If a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at the school, his parent is guilty of an offence.

    A one-off trip and absence arising does not amount to a failure to attend school regularly.

    Runcie, £1 is too much, as is a penny, it is an insult to liberty.

  • Paul Marks

    Correct Mr Ed.

    It is glad to see that Common Lawyers (in the old sense of “Common” Lawyers) still exist.

    Somewhere Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke and Chief Justice Sir John Holt are nodding with approval.

  • Richard Thomas

    I did something nod dissimilar around age 11. The school made me keep a scrap-book of my voyage and I sent back post-cards and a souvenir. Everyone was happy. Simpler times.

  • Dom

    I get it now. Thanks Mr. Ed

  • PeterT

    What Paul said. With more lawyers (or indeed, people) like this things would not be as bad as they are.

    The DfE statement made me laugh (well, cry)..all that means is that somewhere is some rule which defines poor performance as failing to attend ‘even for a week’.

  • Fraser Orr

    Not to be pedantic but regularly doesn’t mean frequently. If the kid turned up the first day of each month and never at any other time, then that would be regular, if he turns up all the time excepting one week, that really isn’t regular, though it is plainly more frequently.

    Of course the whole thing is a ridiculous mess. Liberating the schools from the government is, in my view, the only viable means to restore liberty. Irrespective of what they actually teach (and the teach terrible things) the basic lesson that in the formative years of your life you live is paid for and controlled by the government and its agents is just appalling. And that would be true even if they provided an excellent education, which they often don’t.

    The other thing that I find so silly about this is exactly why would these bureaucrats bother? I mean why would they go to all the trouble of doing this? I totally get that “refusing to genuflect to a petty jobsworth” is indeed the worst moral offence possible in the eyes of the British civil service, but one would have thought sitting back and bleathering about Eastenders would have been a lot less hassle.

  • DP

    Dear Mr Ed

    The state likes to behave as though it owns everyone, especially children. Though the parents complied with the law (which the bureaucrats seemed to think they hadn’t – a cause for concern on its own), the law itself is wrong.

    A child’s education is too important for the government to have any say in the matter, including that part of its education concerning the limits of government.

    DP

  • Laird

    @ PeterT: “With more lawyers . . . ”

    I never expected to see anyone here calling for more lawyers!

  • JohnK

    I wonder if a parent taking its child to the Haj would face the same bureaucratic hostility?

  • Patrick Crozier

    The depressing part is that this only happened because the politicians failed to draft their law properly. If memory serves the intention was very much to outlaw this sort of thing.

  • JordanL

    The only reason why these ridiculous fines and penalties have come into existence is because successive governments have decided to turn schools into exam factories, churning out results instead of competent young adults. If a child (even at primary age) misses school- it might (emphasis on the ‘might’) mean that 10 years down the line they struggle with their exams. In a world where governments compete against each other for the best school results; this is a risk politicians aren’t willing to take….

  • Alisa

    Fraser:

    regularly doesn’t mean frequently

    Not necessarily – it does mean, among other things, as frequently as the law/regulation demands. The father’s point was that his daughter’s absence from school was not part of a pattern, and that most of the the time her attendance was perfectly in line with the demands of the law.

    Liberating the schools from the government is, in my view, the only viable means to restore liberty.

    I couldn’t agree more.

  • Alisa

    The other thing that I find so silly about this is exactly why would these bureaucrats bother? I mean why would they go to all the trouble of doing this?

    Because otherwise some people may get into their little heads the silly idea that their lives and the lives of their children are just that – theirs, and that would undermine the rationale for the very existence of these bureaucrats’ jobs?

  • John Mann

    Like Mr Crozier, I am only slightly cheered by this news.

  • FlyingPig

    These clipboard toting fascists do this because they can. Most people are cowed by the threat of “being prosecuted”. As soon as our school’s Head told us (Governors) in the spring of 2013 that as of September he had to enforce these “guidelines”, I started thinking of challenging them. Two years ago I kept two kids out of school the first two days after half term, risking a £240 fine. The guy in the story was risking a £720 fine, as it is £60 per child, per day.

    I discussed it with our Headteacher first, and learned that he still had a lot of leeway. Just argue how your trip fits into the curriculum. Even if it is pure holiday, he usually can say “I can’t authorize it, but have a good time”. Which means he won’t pursue it with the county. These county muppets in this story probably knew they were on shaky grounds, as they only asked for £60.

    In my case, our head knows the difference between a guideline and a law — because I have drilled it into my fellow governors’ heads the whole time I have been a governor. This is a Catholic school, we went to Rome and stayed two blocks south of St Peter’s. And went to the Vatican Museum. Both girls talked about it to their classes, but they didn’t have to. (“We saw a big stone box where one of my grandmas was buried!”) The Head called it Religious Education and everything was just fine.

    Oh, and “the offense was not made out” is British legalspeak for the prosecution being unable to show that the defendant broke a law. The law violation must be stated in the initial charging paper. That clerk is golden — someone who knows that you cannot prosecute a guideline!

  • Greytop

    Some muslim families take their children ‘home’ to Pakistan for several months at a time, which usually involves missing some school days. I wonder if they are fined too, or is it ‘understood’ by our dear leaders that’s just the way it is?

  • As I homeschooled our three kids, there was never any issue about this kind of thing. Indeed, their trips to (deep breath) France, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, England, Italy, Portugal, India, Chile and Japan all took place during “term time” (i.e. while their contemporaries were attending class at school).

    I would further argue that their experiences were more educational (in the traditional sense) than anything they may have been exposed to at a public high school for the same period of time. The kids all seem to think so, too. As a direct result of these trips, Daughter learned to speak Japanese, Son&Heir learned to speak French, and #2 Son, German.

    We also learned, in Chile, that four YEARS of Spanish instruction at an expensive private school did not give the Son&Heir the ability to ask directions or order a meal in the local language. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

  • Dom

    Kim du Toit: “I would further argue that their experiences were more educational”

    Not in his case. In this case, it was Florida.

  • LOL Dom

    “Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to land at Tampa, Florida’s international airport. Please set your IQ back by 50 points.”

  • I wonder if a parent taking its child to the Haj would face the same bureaucratic hostility?

    Kids aren’t allowed to go on the Haj as far as I know, but your point is nevertheless a good one. Marrying a cousin in Pakistan, perhaps?

  • Cal

    >£60, or even £120. You can make that up just on the flight alone outside school holiday time, never mind any accommodation costs. Hardly a discouraging sum.

    Yes, I know parents at my kids’ school who say they’ll just cop the fine if it happens because of the money they save going to CentreParcs (or wherever) outside of term time. But the Head in the past has never made an issue of kids going away on holiday. The Heads do have a lot of discretion.

    But we have a new Head this year, a rather earnest chap, don’t know how term-time hols will go down with him.

    In my view Michael Gove’s biggest, most enormous, mistake as Education Minster was to start getting tough on this sort of thing. It turned a lot of parents who might otherwise have supported his overall efforts to improve education against him. I knew his goose was cooked as Education Minister once this started happening — you should have heard the non-leftie middle-class parents complain about him over it. No-one in politics or journalism seemed to understand that this was why he had to be sacked.

  • Andrew Duffin

    Stand by for a scramble of bureaucrats, assisted by their politicians, to “close that loophole”.

  • Anonymous Coward

    Is this a precedent, now? Can I use it? The important thing here is that I must pick my battles very carefully. The state can make life very miserable indeed for parents. We have a lot to lose. I don’t want to provoke them unless I am quite certain of winning. That’s why they can get away with it, of course.

  • Mr Ed

    AC, this is not a precedent. For there to be a precedent, the case would have to go either to the High Court for a ruling on the law (usually done after a conviction) and if the judges found that the law did not permit a conviction on a single instance of absence of, say, a week, then the matter would be binding on the Magistrates’ Courts.

    Otherwise, an appeal to the Crown Court could follow a conviction and then to the Court of Appeal, a longer route to much the same result. However, the wording of the statute is clear. What is ‘regularly’ is a question of fact in each case, and a magistrates court might find reasons to find a parent guilty if there was more than one instance of non-attendance, or a long but singular period of non-attendance.

    As Andrew says, the squeals from the bureaucrats will be long and loud, if the government believed in freedom, they would say ‘this has been the law since 1996, it doesn’t need looking at again‘.

    Which it won’t, of course.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Seems to me that “every other week” is regular.