East Sussex County Council: withdraw the "Get a Grip" campaign and make a public apology.
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We feel that East Sussex County Council's "Get a Grip" campaign for improving school attendance is aggressive, condescending, insulting, inappropriate for the purpose and will probably prove to be counterproductive.
The leaflet distributed to our school children was frankly offensive. [**Correction: this originally read "The leaflet distributed to our school children (who had missed a minimum of 3 days in the first half term) was frankly offensive"; I have subsequently been informed that it was, in fact, sent out to almost every child in East Sussex.**]
The phrase "Get a Grip" is suggestive that parents are out of control and ineffective parents. The vast majority of parents who received this leaflet have NOT kept children off school for the spurious reasons listed on the leaflet - all it takes is a nasty winter bug or stomach infection (which carries a minimum number of days before you can return to school) and you're over this percentage (3+ days in the half term). You are accusing parents of failing their children without ANY concern for context or appropriateness. This is disgusting and offensive... and it is even worse when applied to families who are struggling with serious illnesses, traumas and ongoing disabilities and conditions.
The follow up phrase "Most Parents Do" is divisive and demeaning. It only serves to suggest that parents should be comparing themselves unfavourably with other parents whose children have been lucky enough not to have needed to be off school. Suggesting that "95% attendance is not good enough" is again rude, and spurious without context.
The capital letters and authoritative tone throughout are unnecessarily aggressive and outrageous when you have no way of identifying the circumstances of people you are sending this to.
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.
Furthermore, suggesting to us that our children are more likely to fail their exams because they have had to miss school is a gross misrepresentation - children whose attendance is lower may well be struggling with ill health or chronic conditions, which might also affect their exam performance... your statistics are confusing causality for a correlation which could have many different explanations and causes.
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 reengage with the school system.
A supportive tone, highlighting the serious causes for concern, warning of the strict measures in place for unjustified absence and engaging with parents to identify ways the situation can be improved would be far more appropriate. Even when you are taking a firm stance on the subject, you need to convince and win the commitment of parents, not bully us into submission.
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 of and attitude towards parents.
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