Parents have been hauled in front of the courts – as Cardiff council continued its crackdown on unauthorised school absences.
Cardiff Magistrates’ Court saw a revolving door of parents charged with the aggravated offence of knowing their child is failing to attend school regularly and failing, without justification, to cause their child to attend.
Among those punished was Isha Bangura, of Splott, who pleaded guilty after her daughter made 43 school attendances out of 68 school openings between November last year and January.
Tim Petrides, defending, said that her daughter suffered diabetes and that there had been a considerable improvement in recent months with 39 attendances out of 40 openings.
Ms Bangura was given a six-month community order, a three-month curfew and ordered to pay a £60 victim surcharge.
Meanwhile parent Alena Bendikova also pleaded guilty and was given a 12-month conditional discharge, ordered to pay £75 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.
It came after her teenage daughter had attended on just 45 occasions out of 112 openings at Fitzalan High School between November and February.
John Savery, defending, said: “The background to this is the defendant is a Czech national of Roman extraction.
“It seems to be a cultural thing more than anything else and this is recognised by the local authority.
“There is an attitude after 10, 11 and 12 years of age of: why should we go to school?
“The answer, in this country, is because you have to until you are 16.”
Sentencing, chair of the bench Linda Thomas told her: “We understand it might not be a cultural thing but the law of the land dictates children stay in full-time education until they are 16.”
Punishments continue to be meted out after Cardiff council launched its Cardiff Ambition scheme back in September.
As part of the scheme – designed to propel the capital to the top of the council education charts by 2015 – the city’s headteachers have been asked not to authorise requests for pupil holidays during term-time.
One of its key aims is to achieve an average attendance rate of 95% for all schools by 2015.
Others that fell foul of the new guidance yesterday included Kelly Murphy, of Fairwater, who also pleaded guilty.
The court heard she had two daughters at Cantonian High School with poor attendance records before her case was adjourned for sentencing on June 6.
Nicola Morris, of St Mellons, said she had “chased her son down the street” in an attempt to get him to school.
She told the court his recent 19% attendance record at Rumney High School was because he didn’t like going to school and added he actively tried to get suspended to get out of going.
She was given a six-month conditional discharge and £15 victim surcharge.
Nadia Geciova, of St Fagans Street, Cardiff, will be sentenced at a later date but pleaded guilty after her daughter attended on 69 occasions out of 116 school openings at Fitzalan High School between November and February.
Through an interpreter, she told the court: “She (my daughter) just goes to school in the morning, comes back and it feels like she goes to school and comes back and there’s no phone call to say she hasn’t been.
“There’s a bus that takes her so she gets on a bus. She goes on her own to the bus stop.”
The 1996 Education Act makes it clear parents must ensure children of school age receive a full-time and regular education.
Research shows that just 17 days missed from school can mean a drop of a GCSE grade across all subjects.
Cardiff council’s cabinet member for education and lifelong learning, Julia Magill, said prosecutions “should send a stark message” to parents.
“As we see here continual absenteeism can result in parental fines but in some circumstances, parents can even be sent to prison,” she said.
“Parents have a responsibility to ensure their child attends school but all too often, non-attendance is condoned by families for a number of reasons.
“We can’t allow this to continue.”