East Sussex County Council has defended its ‘arrogant’ and ‘sexist’ campaign to improve school attendance.
Members this week voted not to amend the Get a Grip initiative – ignoring the wishes of thousands of angry parents.
Launched at the start of term, it features hard-hitting slogans and warns parents that they will be fined if their children miss school.
Protesters presented a petition signed by more than 11,000 people before Tuesday’s council meeting at County Hall in Lewes, hoping to put a stop to the ‘condescending and insulting’ attendance campaign.
Ella Lewis, from Seaford, told members: “We ask you to promise parents a fresh start and to take an inclusive, positive and intelligent approach when considering attendance issues.
“Treating parents as though we are the enemy is not the way forward, and I am really hoping that today the council will decide to engage with us.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Carolyn Lambert proposed that the council should change its approach to pupil absence and offered an alternative to the controversial campaign with three key points.
The first was that the Get a Grip campaign should be paused immediately.
Secondly she asked the council to acknowledge the concerns from the thousands of parents regarding the way they have been communicated with.
Lastly, she requested a forum of parents and relevant professionals be established that could work together with the council to find a more constructive way to deal with the issue of attendance.
The motion was debated for more than an hour and the council voted to retain Get a Grip in its present form.
Cllr Bob Standley, head of education and inclusion, said: “The campaign is not bullying or patronising. It was not intended to offend, but it raises the serious issue of absence in our schools.”
Cllr Godfrey Daniel described the campaign as ‘sexist’ because one of the slogans portrays a woman’s hair grip. He said: “It is the duty of the mother and the father, not just the mother, to get children to school.”
Cllr David Tutt was in support of the proposed changes and said: “Instead of being arrogant and saying we got it right, we must acknowledge that we offended and alienated people.
“To get good results we need to work with the parents.”
Mrs Lewis afterwards said of the council: “They are not engaged with the population at all.”