Couple face jail after taking children out of school for holiday

Parents refused to pay fine, saying the trip was booked long before legislation was changed

A couple who took their three children out of school for a week’s holiday could be jailed under a law which came into effect days before they went away.

Stewart and Natasha Sutherland faced an appearance before magistrates in Telford, Shropshire today after they refused to pay fines which may now go up to £2,000 – and they could both be jailed for up to three months.

The family of five went on holiday to the Greek island of Rhodes for seven days in September last year. But under a change to the Education Act of 1996, from 1 September their children’s school was only allowed to grant them leave in “exceptional circumstances”.

Previously schools could grant up to 10 term-time days a year for children to go family holidays, and the Sutherlands say they weren’t even aware of the legislation change when they booked the trip some 11 months before it came into effect.

The couple refused to pay an initial fine of £360, which then doubled to £720 after 21 days.

Mr Sutherland, 39, who works in the Ministry of Defence Guard Service, said the nature of his work made it very difficult to get time off at the same time as his wife and children.

He told Metro: “We haven’t been able to get leave in the school holidays at the same time for five years and we desperately needed a family break.

“I know how important education is but family time is important, too. The children’s behaviour and schooling has improved massively since our holiday.”

Mr Sutherland said that he only found out from the school that a fine was a possibility when it was too late: “We had a letter back warning we could be fined, but as the holiday was already booked and paid for what could I do?”

He added that other parents said they told the school their children were ill in order to get around the new legislation, but that he wanted to teach his own kids the value of honesty.

Kay Burford, from Telford and Wrekin council, said the legislation was clear on the matter, adding: “Significant absence from school is disruptive to the child’s education and has a detrimental impact on attainment.”

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