The Government is considering changing laws banning term-time holidays for school children after father won his case in the High Court.
The Department for Education said it was “disappointed” with the ruling in favour of Jon Platt, who refused to pay a fine for taking his six-year-old daughter out of lessons for seven days for a family holiday to Florida last year.
“The evidence is clear that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chance of gaining good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances,” a spokesperson said.
“We are confident our policy to reduce school absence is clear and correct.
“We will examine today’s judgement in detail but are clear that children’s attendance at school is non-negotiable so we will now look to change the legislation. We also plan to strengthen statutory guidance to schools and local authorities.”
Mr Platt was prosecuted under section 444 of the Education Act, which stipulates that parents are guilty of an offence if they fail to ensure their child “attends regularly” at school.
The law does not specify a length of time, although the Department for Education sets its bar for persistent truancy at 90 per cent.
New rules introduced in 2013 said absences should only be authorised by schools in “exceptional circumstances”, allowing fines to be imposed for anything judged to fall short of the benchmark.
Previous guidance allowed headteachers to grant up to a fortnight holiday in term-time each academic year for pupils with good attendance records.
After returning from his family holiday in April last year, which included a visit to Walt Disney World, Mr Platt was issued a £60 fine that quickly doubled when he refused to pay.
The battle escalated to reach the Isle of Wight Magistrates’ Court in October, where Mr Platt won his case, but the local authority appealed the decision to the High Court.
Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Thirlwall dismissed the council's challenge on Friday, ruling that the magistrates had not “erred in law” when reaching their initial decision.
The two judges said magistrates were right to take into account the “wider picture” of Mr Platt's daughter's regular attendance record when they decided he had “no case to answer”.
Speaking outside court after his victory, he said: “I am obviously hugely relieved. I know that there was an awful lot riding on this - not just for me but for hundreds of other parents.”
The High Court ruling, which sets a legal precedent in England and Wales, was eagerly awaited by families enduring huge price hikes in the school holidays.
Many were celebrating the triumph of “common sense” on Twitter, with some hailing Mr Platt a “hero”.
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He said his children have never had less than 93 per cent attendance in an academic year and refused to accept he had committed a criminal offence by paying the original fine.
Julie Robertson, a lawyer who has represented parents challenging school holiday fines, said his victory should give magistrates’ courts the final say on the issue, and encourage councils to adopt a “proportionate and common sense approach” before handing out fines and launching prosecutions.
She said that over several years of similar cases she had “not once” met criminally incompetent parents, adding that many had taken their children on educational holidays.
“What constitutes reasonable attendance…is not something you can put a blanket figure on without taking into account the academic record of each individual child,” she added.
“Attendance alone does not guarantee that a child will do well academically, nor does missing a few classes prevent them from succeeding.
“Prosecuting parents does not in any way help children to learn.”Reuse content