Should 100% Attendance Awards in Schools be Banned?

Why Discover & Be feels ‘The Powers That Be’ need to ‘Get A Grip’

Discover & Be posted an article about 100% attendance a couple of days ago. It is something we feel passionately about and it was a good article.  BUT… hang on a second! There is much more we can say on the subject.

The East Sussex County Council ‘Get a Grip’ campaign makes our blood boil. This time last year, the ‘Get a Grip’ campaign prompted more than 7000 signatures on a petition against its ‘aggressive, condescending and insulting’ message.

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As primary school teachers we do, of course, understand the need to promote good attendance in schools. However, people get sick. Young children, in particular, get sick. Life gets in the way of perfect plans. So how is it ok to tell people to ‘get a grip’ and say ‘there’s no excuse for missing school’? There may be no ‘excuse’, but there are reasons for not attending school.

A relation’s child started in reception class this September. She was very excited at the prospect of ‘learn[ing] to read books by myself.’ However, in week 1 she got sick. Her mum was called from school on the Wednesday to say she was poorly and please could she be collected. She then had 2 days off school with a sky-high temperature! In the very first week of her entire 12-year school career, is it right that the message sent to the family is that she has failed? Failed to attend school 100% of the time! Thankfully the school in question is not that way inclined and no such message has been delivered, but what about the schools and campaigns that do berate parents for allowing their children time off? It is fundamentally wrong.

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While East Sussex County Council was adamant that the campaign was not aimed at parents of children who had genuine medical reasons for being absent, a Council spokesperson later said:

“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 the other pupils. Missing days of school reduces children’s chances of achieving success.”

Children are constantly being measured and assessed in order to improve/ do better. But, how can you ‘do better’ at being well? Yes there are sensible measures to be taken such as wearing a coat when it’s cold, eating healthy food and getting a good night’s rest, but where does that leave a child who does all of those things and is still unwell? And where does that leave a child who has a long-term illness, a chronic condition, a disability or a sick parent?

We, in Britain, are lucky enough to have the NHS. We have access to medical professionals, both general and specialist. They themselves are under a great deal of pressure to see as many patients as they can, but we all know that these appointments are like gold dust! If that appointment should fall within a school day there isn’t a lot you can do about it. The appointment may be a distance away meaning a child needs to miss an entire day of school.

Is it right for a child who is attending hospital to get an x-ray for a broken foot or going to a regular session at GOSH or the Alexander to receive a ‘Get a Grip’ flyer (or similar, depending on their LEA) in their book bag to shame their parents into feeling guilty for attending a necessary appointment or treatment session?

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A child who attends a significant family function during school time may well have a much more enriching experience at that family gathering than can be offered in a classroom for those few days. Should children be denied special experiences such as family weddings and once-in-a-lifetime travelling experiences, due to the pressure put on schools to improve and maintain attendance and attainment statistics?

It saddens us that some schools actually reward children with 100% attendance with certificates, sweets, ice creams and trips! What kind of message is that giving our children? If someone with a disability were refused a bonus at work due to them attending hospital appointments, there would be uproar. It’s discriminatory!

The underlying question for us is this: why are individual schools not trusted to manage their pupils’ attendance anymore? Surely it should be down to the individual school (and the staff there) to monitor the attendance of their pupils and to have procedures in place to follow should attendance be low and without reasonable cause.

Having worked in schools where too much emphasis is placed on attendance, we can honestly say the only thing achieved by sending a sick child to school, is more sick children, because the germs get passed round.

We’re not saying we shouldn’t promote good attendance but telling families to ‘get a grip’ is plain insulting.  Perhaps, of course, this was a deliberate marketing stunt to rile parents and teachers, but we have observed that on the one hand it has also made many families feel incredibly guilty about something that is beyond their control and, on the other, many parents have ‘rebelled’ against the ad and intentionally taken their child out of school for an ‘enriching experience’.

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All that money spent on an offensive attack on parents could have been better spent on school resources and contributing towards ever-shrinking creative arts’ budgets! After all, there is plenty of research out there proving that the creative arts and creative learning have a positive effect on children’s mental health and wellbeing.

The way we see it, the Government (via the LEAs) has once again left a very bitter taste in the mouths of many who are affected by the consequences of its actions. Why does the Government continue to drive a wedge between schools and families rather than promoting positive communication in support of the individual child?  

Discover & Be

October 2018