I sat at the back of the hall at my daughter’s school end-of-year assembly smiling as the choir sang, the oldest class performed and finally the awards were given out.
As a parent, it is such a proud moment to hear your child’s name called out and their achievements recognized. Awards for academic achievement, endeavor, sports, star of the year and citizenship had me cheering, smiling and clapping. Then one final reward made me so angry I actually wanted to get up and walk out: 100 percent attendance!
What? You mean they actually reward children with a certificate for not missing a single day at school? Yes, it is actually commonplace and, in my opinion, absolutely awful!
To put this in context, the average attendance in my local authority this year is over 95 percent so hardly a huge issue. I do understand some children are absent for reasons that are unacceptable but is this really something to penalize the child for or is this not something that would be better dealt with via education of the parents or guardians?
So what are schools really saying when they reward 100 percent attendance?
1. They are telling children “we want you here even if you a sick.”
Surely this goes against all health and safety and human rights of the child and others in the school? This is telling children that coming to school comes before their own physical and mental well being which is appalling. The entire point of education is that the welfare of the child should be central. By rewarding attendance you encourage children to come even when contagious to other staff and children or when they are in no fit state to learn. Stop and think... if an employer put attendance of higher value than human rights would we not be calling our union and going to the press? Then why do we praise schools when they do this?
2. They are telling children “school comes before your own family.”
Yes children are put down as ‘unauthorized absence’ when they are off due to a family funeral or when there is a family crisis. A few years ago, a good friend of mine lost her entire home and possessions in an awful house fire and as a result of being homeless and having no access to uniform or a roof over their head the children lost out on attendance awards! That, to me, is saying to children that even if you have no home, no clothing and no bed to sleep in you should still come to school. In other words, we just don’t care about your home life as long as you attend, even if you are in no state to learn!
My own family had a sudden death in the family this year and as the immediate relatives it was down to us to make all the funeral arrangements and deal with the estate. The problem was the relative (my children’s gran) lived over 400 miles away. Did school really expect me to say to the undertaker ‘I’m so sorry but as this is term time could you keep the body until the next school holiday?’ Life does not run to school timetables and children are part of wider families where death, hospital stays, separation and unexpected events happen. Do we actually want to live in a society that places school attendance above the welfare of our own children?
3. They are telling children “turning up is just as important as learning.”
That sounds good, doesn’t it? They will claim this is an award “that all can achieve” wether they are academic or even have additional support needs. You don’t need to be sporty or overly confident or even the ‘teacher’s pet’ to get attendance so what’s the problem? The issue here is that children come to school not simply to have their name ticked on a register as having attended but to learn and develop. We are supposed to be preparing children for the future but what employer would want someone turning up to work doing nothing? If a child has managed to keep up with the pace of learning and tried their best all year is this not of much more long term value than just being there?
I get that schools want children there. I understand they are accountable to the local authority for attendance. I understand they want to be seen as inclusive and have awards for children that struggle academically or do not overtly shine out in any subject, but why pick attendance?
Make school a safe haven, a place of significance and fun where children want to be. Educate parents on the importance of helping your child to attend as much as possible. But please, do NOT reward children for coming in when unwell, for putting school above family or for just merely having their name ticked on a register.
I thought we were all about having the child at the center or getting it right for every child or whatever else they wish to call it?
Oh and while I am here: not one of the staff members in her school this year would have gained an attendance certificate so why should the children not be treated the same?