An angry dad slammed education chiefs 'who don't live in the real world' after he and his wife were ordered to pay almost £1,000 for taking their three children out of school in term time to go on holiday.
However, the couple claim they have not lost out because the money they saved with an out-of-season holiday was greater than the penalty.
Stewart Sutherland blasted a new law that gives council the power to fine parents whose children miss school as unjust and inflexible, adding: "I know how important education is – but there's a bigger picture. Family time is important, too."
Mr Sutherland and wife Natasha took their kids for a week-long break to Rhodes – their first family holiday in five years.
But when they returned, they found they had been fined £360. This was soon doubled to £720 because they did not pay up quickly enough.
When the couple refused to stump up the cash, they were brought before magistrates in Telford, Shropshire, and warned they faced a jail term if they didn't pay.
They relented and entered a guilty plea and were fined £630 with £300 costs and a £63 victim surcharge.
Speaking after the case, furious Mr Sutherland, 39, who works for the Ministry of Defence Guard Service, said: "We had no choice but to plead guilty otherwise me and my wife could have been behind bars.
"Surely that would make our children's education suffer more than a much-needed holiday? I can't see the justice in it at all.
"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.
"I know how important education is – but there's a bigger picture. Family time is important, too, and the children's behaviour and schooling has improved massively since our holiday."
Magistrates rejected the family's argument that the holiday was booked before the new school attendance law came into place.
The couple – with Rhiannon, 15, Sian, 13, and Keane, six – went abroad on September 25, just 25 days after the law came into force. It ended a policy that allowed schools to grant up to ten days off for family holidays.
Now parents are required to send their children to school except in exceptional circumstances. Offenders risk a £2,500 fine or three months in jail.
The Sutherlands had been refused permission by the school but decided to take the holiday anyway.
Mr Sutherland, who defended himself and Natasha, 36, in court, added: "I stand by my decision. Most parents can take their holiday when kids are off.
"Unfortunately I can't. There's no flexibility at all. If the whole country took their holiday when the kids were off school the country would come to a standstill.
"It's like we are being taxed because I'm a shift worker. "I'm being treated like a criminal because I am trying to do the best for my family."
Prosecuting for Telford and Wrekin Council, Carol Trigger told the court the family were warned they did not have permission to go on holiday.
She said: "There was a change in legislation that had been communicated to parents in July via the school newsletter.
"Mr and Mrs Sutherland had the opportunity to pay the lesser fines totalling £360 within 21 days but they chose not to pay.
"The penalty notice clearly states the non-payment of fines will result in prosecution."
A Department for Education spokesman said: "Poor attendance at school can have a hugely damaging effect, and children who attend 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.
"We have increased the amount parents can be fined for unauthorised absences and cut the amount of time they have to pay.
"Parents should never simply discount a possible penalty notice from the cost of a cheaper holiday, because this is a criminal offence."
HOW THE NEW LAW AFFECTS YOU
• The local authority issues a penalty notice to parents who fail to ensure their kids attend school.
• It equates to £60 per child, rising to £120 if it's not paid within 21 days.
• After 28 days, if the fine remains unpaid, the local authority is required to begin legal proceedings in a magistrate's court.
• Mr and Mrs Sutherland were prosecuted under Section 444 of the 1996 Education Act, subsections one and eight.
• The two parts refer to a parent's failure to secure regular attendance at school of registered pupil.
• If a child of compulsory school age fails to attend the school regularly, his parent is guilty of an offence.
• If the parent knows that his child is failing to attend regularly at the school and fails without reasonable justification to cause him to do so, he is guilty of an offence.
• If a person is guilty to any of the above offences they are liable on summary conviction with punishments ranging from a fine to a three-month prison sentence.
• The guidelines apply to all state-funded schools.
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