Four-month jail sentence for parents of girl who hardly went to school. Gareth Llewellyn and Nicola Porter report
Parents who fail to send their children to school should only be jailed in extreme cases, according to education unions in Wales.
Their verdict comes after a Newport couple were given a four-month prison sentence for their teenage daughter's repeated truancy. Shlaine Haine, 14, attended only 12 registration periods out of a possible 226 at the city's Hartridge high school between January 9 and July 21 this year, the court heard.
However, headteacher Goff Davies went out of his way to help the family, including allowing Shlaine to wear her own clothes because her mother said she could not afford the uniform.
Christopher and Deborah Haine, both 41, of Always, Newport, both admitted breaching the 1996 Education Act regarding their daughter's non-attendance.
Newport magistrates' court heard how the pair were repeatedly warned they could be sent to prison if Shlaine continued to bunk off. On sentencing, chairman Anthony Harris said the couple had shown a "complete disregard" towards her attendance.
But Tristan Trappe, defending, claimed troubled Shlaine, who had educational difficulties, had refused to listen to her parents' pleas to attend school.
He told the court: "Mr Haine did try and drag her to school but somebody rang social services and the police."
Mr Haine, said Mr Trappe, realised then that using the "physical approach"
was was not a practical solution.
Overall, absence rates in Wales have remained virtually unchanged for the past three years, at 9.4 per cent of half-day sessions missed. A 2004 Assembly government target of reducing secondary school absence to below 8 per cent has still to be reached.
But Anna Brychan, Welsh secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said the jail sentences should not be handed out lightly.
"In this extreme case it seems the authorities did absolutely everything possible to help this family," she said.
"I am often amazed at how schools go out of their way to accommodate and help children who repeatedly truant, from rewards to bending the rules.
Prison should be the last resort."
David Evans, secretary of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, questioned whether penalising parents was the right answer.
He said: "This case is extreme and jail should not be the norm."
A spokesperson for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations said punishing parents with jail sentences for every bad truancy case was unfair. Mr and Mrs Haine were sentenced at Abergavenny magistrates' court in January this year to a two-month suspended prison sentence for similar offences.
It followed an initial prosecution in 2002 for failing in their duty to send Shlaine and her brother Caine to school.
Andrew Jones, prosecuting, said: "This Year 9 pupil has persistently failed to attend school for prolonged periods of time. She has been failed by her parents."
A spokesman for Newport city council said: "We are committed to supporting families in driving down unauthorised absences, but sometimes it is necessary to bring about prosecution.
"We welcome the judgement of magistrates in a case where both support and warnings have gone unheeded over such a lengthy period of time."
Shlaine will live with foster parents while her parents serve their prison sentences.