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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 17:29 GMT 18:29 UK
Mother jailed for girls' truancy
BBC graphic showing school truants being questioned by police
A single-mother has been jailed for 60 days after she failed to stop her children playing truant.

It is believed to be the first time magistrates have passed such a sentence on a parent whose children are missing school.

Patricia Amos, who is 43 and a mother of five, was sentenced in Banbury, Oxfordshire, for not ensuring two of her daughters regularly attended school.

The two girls, Jackie,13, and Emma 15, are being cared for by an older sister.

Patricia Amos
Patricia Amos, the mother, is said to be extremely upset
Ms Amos had previously broken a parenting order imposed by the courts in an attempt to make her get her daughters to attend school regularly and had failed to turn up for a court hearing.

The local council - Oxfordshire - said it had been working with the family on truancy for two years and had no control over the sentence passed down by the court.

Magistrates gained powers to pass such a sentence in November 2000, when the maximum penalty in cases like this was raised from 1,000 to 2,500.

The magistrates' action has been condemned by the woman's family

'Harsh lesson'

Her eldest daughter, Kerry Cowman, 25, is looking after the girls while their mother is in jail.

All efforts to engage with this parent to ensure her daughters' full school attendance have been unsuccessful

Roy Smith, Oxfordshire education service
She says the girls have been badly affected by the sentence.

She told BBC News the girls had learned a harsh lesson.

"They are kids, they did not realise it could happen.

"They are willing to go to school. They just want their mum back."

She said both girls were now back in school and said that her mum had done her best to get them to go to school.

"They feel she is being punished for something they chose to do. She would put their uniforms on them and send them off," she said.

Kerry Cowman
Kerry Cowman: "They just want their mum back"
The government has recently made tackling truancy a high priority.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has suggested the parents of children who repeatedly miss school could lose child benefit payments.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris has welcomed the jail sentence, saying she hoped it would send a "shock wave" to Britain's parents.

She recently called for police to be stationed in comprehensive schools in a bid to improve attendance and behaviour in England's worst street crime and truancy "hot spots".

'Last resort'

Ministers have also urged local education authorities to make more use of their legal powers to cut truancy and indiscipline.

Oxfordshire County Council's acting chief education officer Roy Smith said the council had tried hard to get Ms Amos to ensure her children went to school.

"Where attendance becomes an issue we are usually able to deal very effectively with it in an informal way," he said.

Stephen Warrington
Solicitor Stephen Warrington: "What will this achieve?"
"In this case various strategies have been tried over a period of time, including a parenting order under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

"Unfortunately, in this case, parental co-operation has not been forthcoming and all efforts to engage with this parent to ensure her daughters' full school attendance have been unsuccessful."

Patricia Amos' lawyer, Stephen Warrington, is launching an appeal.

He says he hopes his client will be out on bail in the next few days.

"What is a prison sentence going to achieve? It is not going to make her want to co-operate any more with the school and it's certainly not going to secure her children's attendance," he said.

"Head teachers have in the past complained that local authorities do not do enough to pursue persistent truants.

'Gimmicks'

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association said: "For too long the authorities and the courts have been too lenient on parents who condone their child's truanting.

"I hope this is a signal that the courts are now going to support the efforts of both the government and the schools to deal with persistent truants."

Shadow education secretary Damian Green said: "The message should go out that allowing your children to truant is depriving them of their best chance in life.

"It is unacceptable for parents to behave like this.

"What is not needed is a succession of new gimmicks from the government to show how tough they are."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"She had a history of defying the courts"
Older sister of the children, Kerry Cowman
"It's not her fault they didn't decide to go"
John Mitchell, Oxfordshire Education Authority
"This sanction comes at the end of a long process"
Solicitor for Patricia Amos, Stephen Warrington
"The length of time imposed was excessive"

Click here to go to Oxford

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Child truancy
Should parents be held responsible?
See also:

13 May 02 | Education
16 Mar 00 | Education
29 Apr 02 | Politics
29 Apr 02 | Politics
29 Apr 02 | Education
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