Holiday-fine father raps Government

Braintree and Witham Times: Stewart and Natasha Sutherland leave Telford Magistrates' Court after being fined 630 plus costs for taking their children on a term-time holiday Stewart and Natasha Sutherland leave Telford Magistrates' Court after being fined 630 plus costs for taking their children on a term-time holiday

A father fined £630 for taking his children on a week-long break in Greece during the school term has accused the Government of imposing "inflexible" holiday rules on headteachers.

Stewart Sutherland and his wife Natasha were also ordered to pay £300 in costs and a £63 victim surcharge after appearing in court yesterday.

The couple, from Trench, Telford, told magistrates sitting in the Shropshire town that work commitments had prevented them taking a holiday during the official summer break.

Mr Sutherland, who works as a Ministry of Defence guard, told ITV1's Daybreak that recently-tightened rules governing pupil absences had been put in place by people who "don't live in the real world".

The 39-year-old told the programme: "There are thousands and thousands of people up and down the country who cannot get the time off work (to take a holiday during term time).

"I have got no problem with the school - the council are trying to put the blame on the headteachers of the schools that my children went to.

"They (headteachers) are set clear boundaries of when they can authorise and can't authorise a holiday.

"Unfortunately, just because I could not get time off, that doesn't fall into their category, so the school was unable to authorise the holiday request.

"The councils are blaming the schools across the country but it's not the schools, it's the councils and they are being told what they can and can't do by Government."

Mr Sutherland and his wife both admitted failing to ensure their three children attended school regularly between September 4 and October 25 last year.

The court heard that the couple had not been given authorisation to take the children out of classes during the holiday last September and then opted not to pay a £360 fixed penalty notice.

Mrs Sutherland, 36, told Daybreak: "Obviously we have got to pay the fine, that's the outcome of it. But at least we have stood up for what we believed was right."

Headteacher Serge Cefai, who runs a school in south London, told the programme that he backed the new rules, which bar heads from granting absence unless there are exceptional circumstances.

"Teachers are under huge pressure now to drive up standards and make sure our kids do well in examinations," he said.

"I like the idea of the fines, if you want the truth. They are perhaps a bit too light in the first instance.

"This is a huge issue for me - kids must come to school and we must all work together to make sure we maximise the outcomes for our kids."

The amount parents can be fined for offences under the 1996 Education Act has recently been increased.

A spokesman 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.

"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 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."

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