The department for education has declined to back one city’s call for dentists to refuse to treat children during school hours – to crack down on truancy.
Southampton City Council has moved to tackle a stubborn problem of pupils missing lessons by appealing for a ban on health appointments before the end of the school day.
But, quizzed by Dentistry, the department for education (Dfe) stopped short of endorsing the move, which triggered a revolt from one leading Southampton GP.
A spokeswoman said ministers were determined to 'tackle poor attendance and make sure every pupil gets a good education' but added: 'This is a local decision.'
Ministers had no intention of urging head teachers, or other local education authorities, to put similar pressure on dentists elsewhere in England, the spokeswoman said.
Alison Alexander, Southampton’s executive director for children’s services and learning, called for tougher measures to solve the city’s truancy problems.
She said: 'What if doctors and dentists refused to see children during the school day? What if businesses stopped serving parents who were with their kids when they should be at school?
'It is too easy to say some of these are too complex or too challenging, but – given the rate of absence in this city – we have to be really prepared to do it to make a fundamental difference.
'We want to be much more robust, not because we want to persecute parents, but because people who go to school achieve – and we need that for every child in the city.'
But Nigel Watson, chief executive of the Wessex Medical Committee, told his local paper that the attempted ban would not work.
He said: 'I think if practices were told they couldn’t see schoolchildren during the day some GPs would not be happy, because the pressure and the workload are already so great.
'We generally try to be flexible, but we are also trying to fit in people that work – and reserving appointments just for schoolchildren would not work.'
Other councils, including Manchester, Brighton, York, Hull and Surrey, advise parents to avoid medical appointments during school hours – but are not thought to have put pressure on dentists and GPs.
By parliamentary correspondent Rob Merrick