Stewart and Natasha Sutherland simply wanted to enjoy a long awaited family vacation, and took their children out of school for the event. They now risk jail time because they refused to pay a fine under Britain’s new law.
The couple was fined an initial £360 after they went away for seven days at the end of September, but they did not pay the fine. The fine then doubled to £720 because they did not pay it within 21 days.
Now they are to appear before Telford Magistrates' Court to be reprimanded and they face possible jail time.
Part of their logic makes sense; the vacation they took to the Greek Island of Rhodes for seven days was booked prior to the new guidelines that were put in force on September 1 last year. In addition, they are their parents and should be trusted to know what is best for them.
However, they were warned before they went away, they each risked a £60 fine for taking their six-year-old son, Keane, and their daughters Sian, 13, and Rhiannan, 15, out of school for the break.
Stewart commented, "I work in a sensitive job where staffing levels have to be maintained - there’s been a recruitment and overtime ban and it’s been impossible to arrange summer leave that fits in with the rest of the family."
Further, "I know how important education is - but there’s a bigger picture. Family time is important, too, and the children’s behavior and schooling has improved massively since our holiday together."
And now, due to Section 444 of the Education Act, 1996, that states that parents are legally required to send their children to school on a regular basis, and failure to do so can land them a fine or prison sentence, has literally landed them in some hot water.
The Sutherland's stated that they informed the school of the planned vacation, and were apparently unaware of the new laws in the Education Act.
Mr. Sutherland stated: "I informed the school after the summer holidays that we were taking the children out for six days. At that point, I wasn’t even aware of the new legislation."
"We had a letter back warning that as the time off was not authorized we could be fined, but the holiday was already booked and paid for - what could I do?"
"We are their parents; it should be up to us. I have no concerns over any of my children or their level of education. They are all in the top sets, and we believe quality family time is just as important as schooling."
The team leader for Telford & Wrekin Council, Kay Burford, argued that the law was put into place because time off is disruptive to a child's education.
She said: "Our policy supports new legislation which makes it clear that head teachers may not grant any leave of absence during term time unless there are exceptional circumstances."
Further, "Parents should never simply discount a possible penalty notice from the cost of a cheaper holiday, because this is a criminal offense and when doing so they are always risking prosecution."
So, the jury is out on this case, however, and if these parents go to jail it will undoubtedly create a major storm.
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