CONTROVERSIAL warnings telling parents to make sure their children are not off sick too often will continue despite enraging thousands of parents.

Since the end of October, mothers and fathers across East Sussex have been sent leaflets from East Sussex County Council telling them to “Get a Grip” if their children have been off sick for three days or more since the October half term.

The campaign has offended parents, who have described the wording as “antagonistic” and “patronising”, prompting them to start a petition, which soon gained 11,000 signatures – more than enough to be debated at yesterday’s East Sussex County Council full council meeting at Lewes County Hall.

At the meeting, parents suggested that the campaign did not consider those with long term illnesses or special educational needs, and said more vulnerable children would suffer.

Lorraine Heugh’s 14-year-old son has a medical condition which means he has special educational needs and therefore misses time at school.

Ms Heugh, 56, from Robertsbridge said: “I feel that it’s been extremely offensive and unnecessary.

“The council shouldn’t be bullying parents like this.

“The highest attendance issues are with special educational needs children, mainly because their special needs are not being met.

“They need to look in-house to make sure those provisions are being met – not towards parents.”

The parents also pointed out that children with non-serious but infectious illnesses may feel forced into school and spread their illness, which would impact attendance rates.

However, despite the parents’ concerns, the council voted 32 to 12 to continue with the campaign in its bid to combat falling attendance levels across the county.

Kelly-Marie Blundell, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for Lewes, Newhaven, Seaford and Polegate, said: “The campaign has enraged so many people.

“It’s a very counterproductive approach.

“The country has seen nationwide cuts on education.

“Spending more than £10,000 on a marketing campaign instead of giving parents and children the support they need is really abysmal.”


MUM Ella Lewis presented an 11,000 signature petition against East Sussex County Council’s Get a Grip.

Having accumulated so many signatures, the petition was automatically submitted for debate at the full council meeting yesterday.

Mrs Lewis, 37, from Seaford, pleaded to the full council meeting to consider the tone of the campaign, which has been seen as antagonistic.

She said: “East Sussex has a higher absence rate than much of the rest of the country – this is not being talked about but it needs to be.

“Teachers, doctors and social workers were disgusted by the stance the campaign has taken – it is an unacceptable way for a council to treat its constituents.

“Please do not put our children’s academic achievement above their health and wellbeing. The tone is deliberately obtuse at best and negligent at worst.”

Councillors speaking in response to the petition laid emphasis on the county’s poor performance in school attendance compared to the rest of the UK.

Councillor Bob Standley said: “The campaign was not intended to offend anyone but aimed to address the issues of attendance in our schools which are getting worse.”

He put forward a motion for the council to continue its work, which was seconded by Councillor Phil Boorman.

Other councillors agreed the parents offended by the campaign were not the ones targeted.

Councillor John Barnes said: “If the message is not intended for you then why be offended by it?

“There’s a lot being said about health and wellbeing but what they will need is a job which children will get through attainment. We have to find a way of reaching the people who are letting their kids down, and make damn sure they will get their children to school.”

Councillor Godfrey Daniel added: “If children are not going to school they’re not learning. Children are clever – if you give them the techniques to get what they want, they’ll take it. I think people are getting offended too easily. What we need to do is shake those parents up.

“If that upsets a few people along the way, then ok.”

But councillors Carolyn Lambert, David Tutt, Ruth O’Keeffe and Sarah Osborne disagreed, pointing out that it was the approach and tone taken in the campaign – not the aim – that parents took issue with.

Cllr Lambert said: “Parents are aware of the issues with attendance, and we all want the best results for education for our children - they are our future.

“But the Get a Grip campaign has been detrimental to its cause. We want to make parents part of the solution not part of the problem.”

Cllr Lambert put forward a motion requesting to form a working group of volunteer parents and appropriate stakeholders with which to work moving forward. However this was not passed.