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Home / Latest News / Mother jailed for failing to stop her two daughters playing truant from school

Mother jailed for failing to stop her two daughters playing truant from school

A mother has been given a 16-week jail term – after failing to ensure her teenage daughters attended school.

Kelly Murphy, 35, of Fairwater in Cardiff, was sentenced during an appearance at Cardiff Magistrates Court following the 12th and 13th charges over the course of “some years” relating to her daughters’ non-attendance.

She became the first ever parent jailed over truancy in Cardiff, coming after Cardiff council launched a crackdown on unauthorised absences in September. As part of the council’s efforts, they have asked headteachers not to sanction pupil holidays during term time.

Meanwhile The Welsh Government last month confirmed plans for fixed penalty fines of up to £120 to be issued to parents of children who persistently play truant across Wales from September. Their proposals are designed to bring consistency to truancy penalties and times which parents have to pay, but local authorities already have powers to prosecute parents.

Ms Murphy pleaded guilty to two offences of failing to secure the attendance of her 16-year-old and 14-year-old daughters at Cantonian High School in the city.

Magistrates heard the pair had made just 59 and 56 attendances respectively out of a possible 182 openings between September and February.

More recently, the eldest daughter hadn’t attended school at all between April 5 and May 24.

Amanda Jones, prosecuting, said: “There has been intensive intervention with Ms Murphy over some years by the Education Welfare Services and other agencies that work with families.

“Numerous programmes have been put in place to assist both the children and Ms Murphy.

“She has engaged to a certain degree, however nowhere near enough to grasp the extent of the problem and tackle it.”

Leah Griffiths, defending, said Ms Murphy had come to court to ask magistrates for “one last chance”.

“She has withdrawn pocket money, mobile phones, laptops and tried to keep them indoors,” she said.

“Ms Murphy has taken the approach in December 2012, where she did not buy them any Christmas presents.

“She has told me that is the hardest thing she has had to do in her life but it has come to the stage her liberty is at risk.

“She is at the end of the road of steps she can take.”

Magistrates were told Ms Murphy was already subject to a suspended sentence with four months left to run.

Chair of the bench Fiona Tomkins sentenced Ms Murphy to eight weeks concurrent for each charge, consecutive to the eight weeks activated from her suspended sentence.

Tough new truancy rules in 2003 saw a mother from Llanelli sentenced to 28 days in prison after failing to send her 14-year-old son to school – thought to be the first parent jailed over truancy in Wales.

Since then, cases have been infrequent but an estranged couple in Flintshire were jailed in 2008 for 20 weeks and two months respectively after their 15-year-old son skipped 83% of lessons.

The average truancy rate for secondary schools dropped to 1.4% in 2011-12, though almost half of Welsh councils had higher rates, with Cardiff the worst at 2.7%.

Research shows that a pupil who misses 17 days of school – or attendance rate of 91% – can mean a drop of a GCSE grade across all subjects.

The Welsh Government’s new system, designed to tackle the problem and boost attainment, will see fixed-penalty notices of £60 issued by councils for long-term absenteeism, rising to £120 if they are not paid within 28 days.

If penalties are still not paid within 42 days of the original notice being issued, councils will have the option of taking legal action against parents.

But when announced, the new plan attracted criticism from opposition parties and teachers.

Shadow Education Minister Angela Burns said there was a “real danger” truancy fines would hit the most vulnerable hardest.

Meanwhile Owen Hathway, policy officer for the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in Wales, said: “The latest figures show record levels of attendance in the primary sector and significant improvements in attendance in secondary schools.

“The last thing we want to see is pressure on headteachers to enforce truancy fines which may lead to a breakdown in the relationship between schools and their communities.

“Parents need to be part of the solution and not further alienated from the education of their children.”

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