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Parents back jail sanction

...but they still take pupils out of school for their holidays. Karen Thornton reports.

Parents who let their children skip school should be jailed and those whose offspring make false allegations against teachers should be sued, according to Welsh parents. But while nearly three-quarters would jail parents of truants, two in five admit to taking their own children on term-time holidays.

The TES Cymru survey, of 300 parents from across Wales, also shows that 80 per cent of parents think teachers are doing a good job. Parents of primary school children are especially keen, with 40 per cent rating their teachers excellent. Nearly a quarter of parents of secondary pupils consider their teachers to be excellent, with around half saying they are good.

And most parents (82 per cent) claim to "always, or almost always" go to parents' evenings. Only 2 per cent admit never going.

A mother from Llanelli last year became the first parent in Wales to be jailed for failing to ensure her 14-year-old son attended school. The survey shows 74 per cent support this tough approach. Mothers and fathers have equally strong views, but working-class parents and those from south-east Wales are more likely to support prison sentences.

The Welsh Assembly government aims to reduce pupil absence to 8 per cent this year. In 20023, 9.5 per cent of half-day sessions were lost through authorised and unauthorised absence - an average of more than 14 missed school days per pupil.

The Assembly government says prosecuting parents should be a last resort, and has rejected England's policy of getting heads to issue pound;100 spot fines for truancy. Instead, it is piloting the use of learning mentors and army-style outdoor activities. It is also revising attendance data collection.

But truancy expert Ken Reid, deputy principal of Swansea Institute of Higher Education, says the Assembly's work on truancy could be hampered by lack of funding (page 21).

In an article in today's TES Cymru he writes: "The education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson and chief inspector Susan Lewis recently acknowledged that truancy is probably Wales's current number one educational problem."

A slight majority of parents (54 per cent) also believe that parents should face legal action if their children make malicious allegations against teachers. Support was strongest among fathers (62 per cent) and parents of secondary-age pupils (63 per cent). But parents of primary-age pupils were less supportive (44 per cent).

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers voted for a change in the law to allow falsely-accused teachers to seek compensation from parents, at its annual conference in Llandudno this Easter. Last year, 186 NASUWT members sought help after being accused of abusing pupils physically, verbally or sexually. But there have only been two convictions.

Geraint Davies, secretary of NASUWT Cymru, said: "Most pupils make allegations against teachers with their parents' blessing. Many will condone an allegation to cover their own failings."

But Dr Heledd Hayes, education officer for the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said: "Suing could make matters worse. Pupil behaviour can indicate problems."

Earlier this month, the National Association of Head Teachers called for anonymity for teachers accused, but not convicted, of abuse, at its annual meeting in Cardiff.

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