Five Supreme Court justices unanimously ruled against father Jon Platt who took his daughter to Disney World during school term-time in a decision which will have a major impact on schools and parents across the country.
In a judgment clarifying what “regular” attendance at school means, they allowed an appeal by Isle of Wight education chiefs against an earlier ruling that Mr Platt had not acted unlawfully.
The panel of judges, including the court’s president Lord Neuberger, declared Parliament’s intention was that the word “regularly” means “in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school”.
This effectively means mothers and fathers should not take their child out of lessons at any point without the headteacher’s approval.
The judges pointed out there are exceptions to that rule, which include religious holidays and sickness.
Mr Platt said he was “not at all surprised” at the judgment.
He said: “I’m pleased that they acknowledged the judgment doesn’t go on to say what the school rules should be.
“Schools need to think very carefully about what these rules should be. Some have policies that mean that every day missed is a criminal offence.”
Mr Platt’s case now has to return to the magistrates’ court in the light of the ruling yesterday. He said he had “no intention” of pleading guilty.
The council prosecuted Mr Platt after he refused to pay a £120 penalty – under the fixed penalty procedure a parent can avoid prosecution if they pay. Magistrates said he had no case to answer, and the High Court later ruled that he was not acting unlawfully because his daughter had a good overall attendance record of more than 90 per cent.
The decision caused a surge in term-time bookings. Families can pay £1,000 more for a break during the school holidays than during term time, figures suggest.
At a Supreme Court hearing in January, the local authority, backed by the Education Secretary, argued that a child’s unauthorised absence from school ‘’for even a single day, or even half a day’’ can amount to a criminal offence.
But a QC for Mr Platt described the submission as a new and radical interpretation of the law which was absurd and would ‘’criminalise parents on an unprecedented scale’’.