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Attendance Awards: Why Punishing School Children for Being Sick is Ridiculous

01/02/2016 10:25 | Updated 02 February 2016
  • Caroline Thain Serious journalist, passionate writer and mum of three

As ludicrous as the news about the Poole headteacher insisting pupils are sent to school even when they're unwell is, it unfortunately did not come as a shock to me.

Recently I collected my seven-year-old son and opened a brown envelope from his book bag. Every child at his Lincolnshire school, is regularly given a letter awarding them gold, silver, bronze or red status - the only criteria being how many days they were off sick. Beside the band it gives the percentage of attendance.

Gold pupils must 'achieve' 98% or higher. Silver kids are in school 95-98% of the term. Bronze children are there 90-95% of the time. He got bronze. Where else would you be on the third rung for 93.1%?

Why do they think they can punish children for illness? It is utterly unfair to reward families for good health, as this penalises others for sickness. It's a system designed to praise only healthy children - or those who are not well whose parents send them in sick.

Misfortunate parents of a 'red' child - one who continues to miss 10% or more - are threatened with intervention from the education welfare service.

It's clearly a bizarre box ticking, Ofsted appeasing, statistic gathering target-hitting exercise driven by growing pressure on schools to meet unfeasible unrealistic goals.

What is the point? Do they have lots of parents who don't go in when it's raining, take days off to beat busy theme park queues or are too hung over to get up? Doubtful.

My child has atopic eczema and multiple allergies - autoimmune disorders. If he is unwell 'enough' he stays home. Every time I quibble it, balancing the missed education against the rest his body needs.

Despite school pledging to send home these reports every seven weeks, I will do nothing differently. Yet now I feel guilt, worry and judgement.

It will encourage parents to force ill children to school or make no difference whatsoever but create bad feeling - except for those blessed with great health (or cruel parents who send them in regardless).

It's certainly awful to children with chronic health problems and self-esteem zapping to their families. It's arguably discriminatory. It says only well kids are the best and only constantly healthy kids can achieve. It's unnecessary too because the well kids and their parents already know they have high attendance.

If gold is 'best' and red is 'worst' then it is prejudice: kids with chronic conditions must go in when they're not well or can never be top due to blighted health.

It will make parents send their children in when they're 'borderline', spreading infection to those with compromised immune systems who will get sicker and be absent more.

I won't send mine in ill contrary to the school's patronising suggestion that we should all aim to raise a level every term.

I can't decide what's more offensive: the notion I am a stoner who can't be bothered to get my child to school, or the suggestion I can magically control how many days he is ill, purely because school dictate him to be permanently well.

Obviously I will have to arrange his sickness to fall at weekends and during holidays because that best suits school and makes figures more acceptable to governing bodies.

What do they hope to achieve? Do they want ill children in class? To demotivate, dishearten and disengage families already suffering chronic conditions?

The paper nature of attendance awards should not be underplayed. Other awards are made of paper too. Do well, here's a sticker. Do better, get a certificate. They are boosting the well kids therefore running down the ill kids. It's not much of a reward. But it is a reward; one implicitly saying to children they deserve punishment for being unwell.

At the end of each week, a massive soft toy goes to the class with the best attendance until the following week. They announce the winners in assembly as all the children cheer.

What message is this to give? Never be ill and if you are, come to school anyway. It isn't fair on children, parents, teaching staff, or fellow pupils made to breathe in germs. And not least bugs from that saggy old teddy, which has been doing the rounds hanging out with 'the well kids' (or rather, the sick ones who didn't want to miss out on their prize).

All this makes me feel quite sick.

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