A couple who took their children out of school so they could have their first family holiday in five years risk being jailed after refusing to pay fines introduced under controversial new laws.
Stewart and Natasha Sutherland will appear before Telford Magistrates' Court tomorrow after they took their three children to the Greek island of Rhodes during the school term.
The couple were given an initial fine of £360 after the family of five went away for seven days at the end of September, but were unwilling to pay.
The penalty then doubled to £720 because they did not pay the fee within 21 days.Now, I'm sure there are parents who require, ahem, encouragement to send their kids to school. Maybe some sanctions for repeated frivolous or neglectful attendance might be required under such circumstances. But this ain't one of those cases.
On the contrary, Stewart Sutherland seems erudite and makes a very good case.
The couple are arguing that the education authority has no appeal process and they have no choice but to go to court to have their say.
‘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.
‘We are bringing our children up to value their education, we know how important it is, but we are being punished for three things, because we work full-time, the fines are double because we are married, and finally because we were honest enough to tell the school the truth about the holiday instead of simply saying the kids were ill.’Natural justice should surely mean opportunity for appeal should be mandatory in education just as it is in every other area - he is 100% correct in that. It's also disturbing that this should be imposed when some level of courteous understanding should have come into play.
The family booked the holiday in October 2012, before the new guidelines were put into force on September 1 least year.In 2012, I also tackled the point about getting around the rules by citing illness.
What is Gove planning to do when 'sickness' absences rise dramatically, which is the only fully predictable outcome, especially since mobile phones now mean a parent can call a child in sick from bloody Goa if they choose?
Monitoring of movement? Mandatory child check ups to prove the sickness has occurred? Home visits by state inspectors to ensure the family hasn't done a moonlight flit? Investigations into where calls are made from? You know, the sort of thing Conservatives used to accuse Labour of.Because these new tough rules are, after all, a Tory policy having been installed during their tenure.
When you boil it all down, this is the end destination for Gove's policy. The state's inalienable right to educating kids over and above any ability of parents to decide marginal benefits/drawbacks of missing out on a week or two - or even more if they see fit - for themselves.I might add that when teachers strike there is no talk of fines for desecrating the sanctity of education. The same state employees who enforce fines for the crime of missing a week, for one family here or there, seem to value that precious time far less when they are depriving every child in the school and, with it, an exponentially larger count of lost education days. Not to mention the time off work and commensurate lost wages/payments to childcare that go with it for parents.
I suppose it wouldn't matter so much if there wasn't such a huge amount of flabbiness in the curriculum anyway, as I've mentioned in the past when told we are supposed to 'respect' schools and teachers (from 2011 and do click through the links for more).
Well, let's talk about some of the activities undertaken recently by the little Puddlecotes at school, shall we?
Today, the boy has spent the entire day at a nearby theatre rehearsing for an evening choir performance - it's a culmination of weeks of in-class training in the vital skill of singing pop songs. This follows two fund-raising mufti days in the past couple of weeks, the focus of one being a full programme of having a right laugh and being 'educated' about Comic Relief. The other was less - for want of a better word - intense, but was capped with finishing at lunch in favour of a cake and book sale for visiting parents, with the kids as stall holders.
The girl has also been fully educated (for this year, at least) in X-Factor appreciation after weeks of preparing for a celebrity-studded concert at the O2 with thousands of others. The obligatory charity days were also observed.
Now, that may seem part of a well-rounded education, except that there isn't much meaningful education being added to the rounding, as regular readers will ably recall.
The boy most recently regaled me with how he had been instructed to write a rap song about the environment, whilst the girl was tasked with producing a poster advising on the dangers of smoking and drugs.
All of which makes me wonder what, exactly, we should be asking our kids to respect here.Or, put another way.
Schools have a total of 38 weeks with our children, much of which is taken up by execrably useless subjects such as PSHE and nagging about lifestyle choices, sex education, and bloody environmentalism. This is without mentioning mufti days at the behest of professional charity fund-raisers, childhood damaging health and safety hysteria, politically-correct nonsense, and other fripperies that have no place whatsoever being taught by the government.So good luck to Mr Sutherland. I expect a week with someone as switched on as him - in a horizon-broadening environment for kids - was equally as useful as the week his youngsters missed in the state's care ... but will have caught up on just as anyone in work catches up with their backlog after the compulsory EU 5.6 weeks of annual paid leave.
All power to your elbow today in court, Sir.