A controversial campaign to tackle poor school attendance in East Sussex has led to ‘early signs of improvement’, according to the county council.
Using slogans such as ‘get a grip’ and ‘don’t be a mug’ East Sussex County Council urged parents to ensure their children attend school every day and warned that fines would be handed out for unauthorised absences, including taking holidays in term time.
More than 11,000 people signed a petition, started by Seaford mum of two Ella Lewis, which urged East Sussex County Council to withdraw the campaign and apologise.
A motion by Lib Dem councillor Carolyn Lambert, which called for the campaign to be paused and a forum to be set up to find a more constructive way of engaging on the issue, was defeated back in December.
She has now submitted written question asking how the campaign has impacted attendance levels, what research had been undertaken to assess its effectiveness, and what research has been done to ensure any future campaigns are effectively targeted.
She said: “The recent Get a Grip campaign was controversial and caused distress to a number of parents who felt that they were being unfairly targeted, that the campaign was insufficiently nuanced and that it was unlikely to reach the people it needed to.”
In a written response Bob Standley, lead member for education and inclusion, special educational needs and disability, said: “The breadth of the comments we received, council and media coverage during the campaign, indicates that the campaign had very broad reach and was noticed by the full range of parents across East Sussex. Poor attendance starts when a child takes their first day of absence for an inappropriate reason, it is significantly poor
attendance when it goes over just five per cent: it was important to raise awareness with parents who would condone such absence as much as it was to target parents of children with protracted poor attendance.”
“Over the first two terms of this academic year, when we ran the campaign, overall attendance rates improved across primary, secondary and special schools in comparison to the same period the previous academic year. This is the first time that attendance has improved in East Sussex for a number of years.
“Clearly we will continue to monitor the longer term impact, but it is promising to see early signs of improvement already.
“In addition to the improvements in attendance, we have seen a reduction in the number of absences which are being authorised by schools. This shows that there has also been a shift in the approach by a number of headteachers and low-level absence is being addressed more consistently.”
He explained how they regularly look at what other local authorities with better attendances are doing to see if there is anything they can learn from them.
Meanwhile other councils have contacted ESCC to seek permission to replicate its approach to tackle poor school attendance.
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