A subject which has exercised much debate among parents over the last week or so is taking holidays during term time, writes FIONA SCOTT.

This was brought into the spotlight again when a couple from Shropshire were fined more than £900 for taking their three children out of school for a week’s holiday when the two schools concerned would not authorise that absence.

The couple, Stewart and Natasha Sutherland, believed their circumstances were exceptional as Stewart is a Ministry of Defence guard and is not able to take leave easily during school holidays.

However, they were fined, refused to pay the fine, and had their day in court. They admitted the offence and will be paying back the court fine at the rate of £40 a month.

This is a difficult issue for parents and I’ve heard many views.

Arguments include – it’s penalising responsible parents, it’s discriminating against single parents or those families on low income, and parents can best judge a child’s needs.

On the other hand, I’ve also heard – it’s selfish to take your child away during term time, education is the most important gift for your child, a week away does make a big difference, particularly if your child struggles academically.

However, one former teacher told me: “I never worried if children were taken out of school.

"They learn life skills of a different kind when on holiday with their family and could always keep a diary with photos if the school are worried.”

There are some facts to consider:

  • Taking a holiday in term time is not a parental right in law.
  • Unauthorised absence figures directly affect a school’s Ofsted status.
  • There are exceptions to the rule – missing school for religious observance (a code R absence) must not be treated as unauthorised absence.

I’m torn on this having had children within the state school system for 15 years. I have once taken my children out of school for four days tacked on to a half term when we had the opportunity of a family holiday overseas.

This was before the new, more stringent rules but I still had to make my case in writing. Do I regret it? No, it was the best family holiday we have had and we often talk about fondly.

However, the higher cost of family holidays during school time is a big issue for many parents. The fines are often far lower than the more expensive holiday, even if you’ve got more than one child.

My top tip: book as early as you can and pay a deposit today.