Couple fined €1,000 for taking children out of school for holiday
A couple who took their three children out of school to go on a week-long holiday to Greece have been fined £630 and ordered to pay £300 in costs.
Stewart Sutherland and his wife Natasha were also handed a £63 victim surcharge after telling magistrates that work commitments had prevented them taking the holiday during the official summer break.
Speaking after the case at Telford Magistrates' Court in Shropshire, Sutherland described newly-tightened regulations governing pupils' absence for holidays as a farce.
The 39-year-old, who works as a Ministry of Defence guard, told reporters: "The people who make these laws and policies don't live in the real world."
Sutherland, from Trench, Telford, and his spouse both admitted failing to ensure their children, aged 15, 11, and six, attended school regularly between September 4 and October 25 last year.
The court heard the couple had not been given authorisation by two schools to take the children out of classes during the holiday last September.
Addressing magistrates in mitigation after entering guilty pleas to three counts brought under the 1996 Education Act, Sutherland said: "Because myself and my wife both have full-time jobs, we have very little time together as a family.
"I don't work somewhere where you can can choose when you take your leave.
"It had been a long time since we had had a family holiday and I think as a parent you have got the right to take a summer holiday."
Telling JPs that he stood by his decision to go on holiday despite ending up in court, Sutherland added: "Some parents can take their holiday over the period the kids are off.
"Unfortunately, I couldn't.
"There is no flexibility at all (in the current laws) and if the whole country took their holidays when the kids are off school, the country would come to a stand-still."
Many parents simply viewed penalty notices of £60 per child as part of the cost of term-time holidays, the father-of-three told the court.
Claiming the family needed to spend time together on holiday to address problems being experienced by one of his children, Sutherland added: "I feel that I am being treated like a criminal and being punished because I am trying to do the best for my family.
"It's like being taxed because I am a shift worker.
"I had to take everybody as a family to get us back on track, which is what I have done."
Sutherland, who was brought to court after opting not to pay a £360 fixed penalty notice, told magistrates: "I didn't want to come to court today, what I wanted was an appeal process that would show the reason why I had to do it."
Chair of the bench Janice Haines thanked Sutherland for his "very eloquent" explanation of his position.
Passing sentence, Ms Haines told the couple: "This offence, which is strict liability, attracts a fine of up to £1,000.
"In deciding on a financial penalty we were obliged to take into account your earnings and also the fact that you came to court with a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity."
The Sutherlands agreed to pay the fine at a rate of £40 per month.
The amount parents can be fined for such offences has recently been increased, while new legislation makes clear that schools can only authorise term time absences in exceptional circumstances.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: "Poor attendance at school can have a hugely damaging effect, and children who attend school regularly are nearly four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs than those who are regularly absent.
"That is why we have given schools more power to tackle poor attendance and allowed them to intervene much earlier.
"Parents should never simply discount a possible penalty notice from the cost of a cheaper holiday, because this is a criminal offence and when doing so they are always risking prosecution."
In a statement, Telford and Wrekin Council said: "The decision to not authorise an absence request from parents during term is taken by a school or an academy and not the council.
"The school or academy will then instruct the council to issue the fine notice and legally this has to be done by the council.
"If the fine is not paid the council must take further legal steps, as it has in this case.
"The council's policy on absence has been developed to reflect the national and local priority of raising the educational achievement and attainment of pupils and the Government's view that parents should not take their children out of school during term time, and follows changes in legislation that clearly indicate that absences during the term time can only be authorised by heads in exceptional circumstances."