Courts are right to imprison parents of truants, says Morris

Estelle Morris said yesterday she would support magistrates who jailed parents of children who played truant.

The Secretary of State for Education told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think if they feel they've got to take that action I'm highly supportive of them." She was speaking after Patricia Amos, the 43-year-old single mother who became the first parent to be jailed for failing to ensure her children turned up for school, said prison had worked for her.

Her daughters Emma, 15, and Jackie, 13, had regularly missed classes at Banbury school in Oxfordshire despite 71 attempts by the education authority to contact Mrs Amos. Ms Morris said: "What I'm absolutely sure about is that if the Banbury magistrates had not sentenced her to prison Jackie and Emma would still be out of school.

"And they'd not just be out of school now, they'd be out of school next month and the year after and there's one certainty in life – those children would have grown up, left school, found it difficult to find work and maybe in turn have found it difficult to send their own children to school."

She said the sentence "set an example to others", adding: "Anecdotally what we're hearing now from right across the country is that parents are turning up at school with their children who've been out of the school for weeks and said, 'I'm bringing him or her back'."

Ms Morris was in Rome yesterday after accepting an invitation from the Italian government to outline the crackdown on truancy. She said she was not going to claim that truancy rates were already dropping. And she insisted prison sentences had to be a last resort. "I wish Mrs Amos hadn't have gone to prison and that she'd have taken action beforehand ... Nobody wants women to go to prison for this.

"But, if at the end of the day they don't respond, I think magistrates should continue to take firm action. We've seen it's worked in this case and I think that it could work in other cases. But I'd much prefer preventative action to do the job."