Stewart and Natasha Sutherland fined for term-time holiday

Stewart Sutherland said he felt "family time was needed to keep the family on track"

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A couple who took their children on a week-long holiday during school term time have been ordered by magistrates to pay £1,000 in costs and fines.

Stewart and Natasha Sutherland, from Telford, Shropshire, originally refused to pay a £360 fine. It doubled after they failed to pay within 21 days.

They admitted failing to ensure their children attended school regularly.

Mr Sutherland, 39, said: "The people who make these laws and policies don't live in the real world."

'Behaviour concerns'

School attendance rules

Parents in England and Wales have a legal responsibility to ensure their children attend school (unless they have opted to home-educate them). If they fail to do so, they are committing an offence under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996.

Parents can put in requests for term-time holidays, but these requests are granted or refused entirely at the head teacher's discretion and are not a parental right.

Heads in England were previously able to grant up to 10 days of leave a year for family holidays in "special circumstances". But since 1 September 2013, they have no longer been able to grant any absence in term time except under "exceptional circumstances".

In Northern Ireland, the majority of family holidays taken during term time are categorised as an unauthorised absence.

If parents in England and Wales fail to ensure their children attend school, they may be issued with penalty notices of £50 to £100. Prosecution can result in a fine of up to £2,500, a jail sentence of up to three months or a community sentence.

The couple, their two daughters, aged 15 and 13, and six-year-old son went to the Greek island of Rhodes for a week at the end of September 2013.

Telford and Wrekin Council said stricter laws about taking children out of school specified that leave can only be granted in term time in exceptional family circumstances.

Mr Sutherland, who represented himself in court, said he booked the holiday a year before the law changed in September 2013.

He told magistrates he decided to take a family holiday because of problems with his eldest daughter, whose behaviour and school attendance had deteriorated.

He also said that the family had very little time together and his work meant he could be absent at Christmas, birthdays and holidays.

The Department for Education (DfE) has given schools more power to deal with unauthorised absence, and has also increased the amount parents can be fined.

A spokesman 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.

"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," he added.

'Like a rolling door'

Speaking before the court hearing, Mr Sutherland said: "Yes, school is important but I feel family time is important as well.

"At the moment, because me and my wife both work it's like a rolling door in our house. One is at home the other is at work and vice-versa.

"We felt family time was needed to keep the family on track."

The couple, from Trench, were fined £630 and ordered to pay £363 in costs by Telford magistrates.

Mr Sutherland told the BBC it was his first family holiday for five years because his job as a Ministry of Defence (MoD) guard had prevented him from taking annual leave during the school holidays.

He works 12-hour day and night shifts at MoD Donnington in Telford.

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