School attendance campaign labelled ‘condescending’

East Sussex County Council's 'Get a Grip' campaign, urging parents to ensure their children attend school every day

An ‘insulting and condescending’ campaign to improve school attendance in East Sussex should be withdrawn, according to a petition signed by more than 6,000 people.

Slogans such as ‘Don’t Be a Mug’ and ‘Get a Grip’ are being featured on bus stops, social media and radio adverts as part of the drive to ensure children turn up to school every day.

East Sussex County Council has defended the campaign as it addresses an ‘extremely serious issue’, with school attendance levels in the county ‘simply not good enough’.

But a petition started by Ella Lewis, from Seaford, called for the authority to withdraw the campaign and apologise, describing it as ‘aggressive, condescending, insulting, inappropriate for the purpose and will probably prove to be counterproductive’,

She also suggested the leaflet distributed to school children who had missed a minimum of three days in the first half term was ‘frankly offensive’.

The petition concluded: “We do not expect to be blindly attacked and undermined by our county council and were shocked by your approach in this instance.

“We request that you withdraw this campaign and apologise for the insulting treatment and attitude towards parents.”

It argued the decision to take time off work to look after ill children ‘is not one that is taken willingly or lightly’.

A ‘supportive’ tone highlighting serious causes for concern and warning of the strict measures in place for unjustified absence and engaging with parents ‘would be far more appropriate’, the petition suggested, instead of an ‘unsupportive and aggressive attitude’ that ‘will only serve to alienate families’.

But the county council described how the campaign was not aimed at parents of children who have genuine medial reasons for being absent, but was intended to address situations such as people taking holidays in term time, or the odd day’s sickness absence taken here and there.

A spokesman said: “We appreciate this campaign has been controversial in some quarters but we won’t flinch from addressing this extremely serious issue. School attendance levels in East Sussex are simply not good enough.

“The campaign we have been running is not aimed at parents of children who have genuine medical reasons for being absent and we understand it is not always possible to make appointments for essential medical appointments outside of school hours.

“Instead the campaign is intended to address concerns over high levels of school absence in the county resulting from, for example, the odd day’s sickness absence taken here and there or taking holidays in term time.

“Missing even one day of school has an impact not just on a child’s education but on the rest of the class, as it means the teacher has to spend time helping them catch up – to the detriment of other pupils.

“Missing days of school reduces children’s chances of achieving success – from the youngest pupils starting school to older students preparing for higher education or employment.

“It affects children’s chances of achieving the expected standard by the end of their primary school career and getting the good grades they need in secondary school to give them the best chance of going on to higher education or getting a good job.”

The county council’s website offers advice for improving attendance, such as booking medical appointments outside of school hours, being more organised the night before, and highlights the support available for pupils who are reluctant to go to school.

Last week the authority revealed it had taken 16 parents to court over their children’s poor attendance.

Absence in term time can only and must be authorised by the headteacher and anyone taking their child out of school without permission can expect to receive a £60 penalty notice – or court action if they fail to pay.

For more information on the campaign click here.

To view the petition click here.

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