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East Sussex parents slam council's 'insulting' school attendance drive

Parents have complained this council poster is Credit: East Sussex County Council/PA

An "insulting" council campaign urging parents to make sure their children attend school even if they have a minor illness such as a cold has been condemned by parents.

East Sussex County Council's campaign uses slogans such as "Get a Grip" and "Don't be a Mug" to urge parents not to let their children take time off.

Thousands of people have signed a petition calling for the campaign - which warns parents they might be fined if their children miss lessons without permission - to be scrapped.

The change.org petition has gained about 6,900 signatures so far, and calls on the council to apologise as well as withdraw the "aggressive" campaign.

A spokeswoman for the council acknowledged that the move has been controversial, but said that school attendance levels in the area were not good enough and that the authority "won't flinch" from addressing the issue.

The petition says that a leaflet distributed to schoolchildren who had missed at least three days in the first half term was "frankly offensive".

"Of course we don't want our children to miss the curriculum, and of course we don't want teachers wasting their time catching children up instead of teaching the class, but there is nothing we can do about it - the decision to take time off work to look after ill children is not one that is taken willingly or lightly," the petition says.

There is no justification for the tone of this leaflet. For those parents (a minority) who are keeping their children at home for reasons not considered serious enough to warrant it, this leaflet will only serve to alienate families.

It is unsupportive, and the aggressive attitude will hardly encourage those people to re-engage with the school system.

– change.org petition

A council spokeswoman 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."

Announcing the campaign at the beginning of the school year, the council warned parents that they could be fined for unauthorised absences, including term-time holidays, and suggested that children should attend school even if they have a minor cough or cold.