Truancy prosecutions: IW Council department spends almost £250k

Island businessman Jon Platt, the champion for parents seeking flexible holiday arrangements with schools, has sent a half-term rocket to the Isle of Wight Council.

Last week no fewer than six prosecutions of parents were heard at Newport Magistrates’ Court and three were directly linked to pupils being removed from school during term time to go on holiday. Each parent was ordered to pay between £160 and £811 in costs.

But Mr Platt, who took his own fight against a similar prosecution to the Supreme Court last year – ending in his being found guilty, given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £2,000 – said the council’s continued stringent action against parents was both wrong and unjustified in terms of educational performance.

Speaking exclusively to the IW Observer, Mr Platt gave a coruscating critique of council policy.

Jon Platt

He declared: “I made a Freedom of Information request to the IW Council based on the latest academic year and it revealed 48 prosecutions of parents, costing those parents more than £6,170 in costs. They are the strictest council in the country in prosecuting truancy penalty notices (TPNs).

“And I wanted to know how much it costs to run the Education and Inclusion department that brings those prosecutions. The answer? It is £246,056.

“The council tells me that this department does other things and that these prosecutions are a small part of their work. But that near-£250,000 cost does not include processing the payments or the legal services team’s costs.”

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And Mr Platt, whose ex-wife had taken their three children on a term-time holiday to Cuba at the time of the interview, said the council could not justify its policy because strictly enforcing term-time attendance did not result in better educational achievements.

“All these prosecutions might well be justified if it worked and had the desired effect on educational standards and achievement,” he said. “But the country’s strictest authority on attendance has among the worst educational outcomes. Being hyper-strict on children attending in term time does not result in better education.

“It is very worrying. How come almost half – 46 per cent – of IW children can’t pass their GCSEs in English and Maths, the worst in the country. The council has to look at itself.

“In addition, the Island has the highest pro rata level of hospital admissions of pupils with mental health problems. I’m not saying it is directly linked to their policy of prosecuting parents but it is a worrying correlation.”

All three of Mr Platt’s children are now privately educated at Ryde School where his wife’s decision to take them on holiday to Cuba – in term time last week – was not an issue.

Children who are taken on term-time holidays get better education results,” claimed Mr Platt. “My kids get more ‘A’ marks than I ever did and on top of the occasional holiday in term time, Ryde has only 167 days in its school year whereas Island state schools have 23 days more.

“Perhaps we need a change of heart and to lighten up on our policy on attendance. Maybe it is turning the kids off education.”

In addition, the recent IW Council decision to cut school summer holidays to five weeks and extend the October half-term break – due to start in the 2019-20 school year – has already backfired, according to Mr Platt.

“Cowes Enterprise College has just announced they are not going to go along with this plan so already some parents with children in different schools will have the nightmare of organising holidays when their children are taking different holidays at different times,” he said.

“That dilemma is exactly what happened to me when I had two children at Ryde and another in school at Bembridge – and I ended up in the Supreme Court. Parents won’t know when to book their holidays for the best.

“The cabinet member for children’s services, Councillor Paul Brading, is a nice man and I like him but this policy is already coming unstuck. Now my children are all at Ryde and they can take holidays at the same time – and in term time if we wish.”

An earlier Freedom of Information request by the BBC showed that the number of penalties issued for absences during term time in 2016-17 on the Island was five times the national average, at 64 per 1,000 pupils.

On average, 12 penalties were issued per 1,000 children by local authorities during 2016-17 and parents across England and Wales have been fined a total of £24m.

Mr Platt, made national headlines in 2017 when he fought his prosecution all the way to the Supreme Court after taking one of his children out school during term time for a family holiday to Disneyland in 2015.

IW Council have been contacted for comment.