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'Get a grip' school absence ads cause anger

Advert warning parents not to let their children miss school Photo: East Sussex County Council

A mother has hit out at a hard-hitting advertising campaign by her local authority aimed at encouraging parents not to let their children miss school.

East Sussex County Council launched the drive at the start of term in a bid to warn parents they will be fined if their children take unauthorised absences from school.

The local authority brought 181 prosecutions in the academic year 2016 - 2017, under which parents were fined a total of more than £27,000, and ordered to pay more than £31,000 in costs. The number of prosecutions was almost three times higher than in the previous academic year.

The council says it wants to avoid further prosecutions and to protect the future prospects of the area's young people. On the launch of the campaign earlier this month it set out its reasoning:

“There’s a perception among some parents that 95 per cent attendance is enough, but this is simply not the case.

“Missing even one day of school has an impact not just on your 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.

“We do appreciate the issues parents face around the cost of going away during the school holidays but children’s education has to come first..."

– Cllr Bob Standley, county council lead member for education & inclusion
Parents advised to 'Be on the ball' Credit: East Sussex County Council

In its campaign literature the local authority said that 'children and young people who are regularly absent are also more likely to miss out on forming the strong friendship bonds that those who attend every day enjoy.'

It also advised parents to book doctor or dentist appointments outside of school hours - and to ensure that their child has a regular bedtime routine without electronic devices, so that they are not tired for school on the following day.

However, the campaign featuring slogans such as 'Don't Be a Mug' and 'Get a Grip' has left one mother angry. Lara Stutchbury has called the advertisements 'short-sighted and patronising' - she says that some parents, like her, have no choice but for their children to miss classes or school for hospital appointments, or other health or educational needs. She wants the ads to be scrapped.

One of the slogans which has offended some parents Credit: East Sussex County Council

In response to the complaint the council has said it had not intended to offend anyone.

“Schools may accept that a genuine medical condition, where evidence can be provided from a GP or hospital, is a valid reason for a student’s absence.

“Where a medical appointment is required, we encourage parents to try and book these outside of school hours, but we understand that this is not always possible and parents won’t be penalised for taking their child out of school for essential medical appointments.

“The campaign we have been running is not aimed at parents of children who have genuine medical reasons for being absent, but is attended 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.

– East Sussex County Council spokesman