Mums and dads have come forward to share their children’s experience of missing out on trips and treats, after a mum from Liverpool set up a Change.org petition calling on schools to “stop penalising children with medical conditions for their attendance”.
Jessica Smullen’s five-year-old son Noah was told he couldn’t go to his school’s Christmas celebration because he did not have 98% attendance.
Noah has severe asthma. Smullen explained his attendance dropped below the 98% threshold when he was sent home one day as he was too ill to be in.
“When he gets poorly, he needs to be home,” she said.
In a matter of weeks, the mum’s petition has received 120,000 signatures and is well on track to reach its target of 150,000.
Smullen told HuffPost UK Noah was made to stay in his classroom during the Christmas celebration.
He had taken roughly five and half days off during the academic year and Smullen explained these absences were due to his asthma and a period when he was “wiped out by flu”.
“I advised the school when he started that I was worried what would happen, as I knew he wouldn’t have good attendance due to falling ill often,” she said.
“At the parents’ evening I was told my son was on or above all his targets. I didn’t get a letter home saying he wouldn’t be going to the Christmas celebration, it just happened.”
Smullen wrote on the petition: “It was heartbreaking to see my son being penalised due to a medical condition that he has no control over.
“I tried to appeal to the school but they wouldn’t change the rule. They had proof he was poorly but still didn’t let him celebrate.
“My son is not the only child this has happened to. There have been other cases of this happening in other schools in our city and across the country.”
Smullen has called on Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for education, to ask her to write to schools asking them to revise their policies on this.
“If this does not work, I will push it to parliament as best I can,” she said.
“I will be emailing Ofsted to show them my petition and show them the stories I have been sent.
“Some of the stories about children being punished for bad attendance, where they have life-threatening concerns, is disgraceful. As the voice for children, we can’t let it continue.”
Laura Kileen, 30, from Stockton-on-Tees, has a seven-year-old daughter who has juvenile arthritis and hypermobility syndrome. She has missed out on attendance rewards due to having to attend essential hospital appointments that can’t be made outside of school hours.
“Her hypermobility causes problems day-to-day,” Kileen told HuffPost UK. “She has to have hospital check-ups every three months, blood tests every three months and eye appointments a couple of times a year, as well as physio.”
The mum explained that at her daughter’s school, each week kids get points for attendance. At the end of term, if they reach a certain percentage, they go into a prize draw to get vouchers. But Niamh has never been entered.
“As a compromise, the school asked her to do the work outside of school, but because she struggles with fatigue, I can just about get her to do her normal homework let alone extra work in the evenings,” said Kileen.
“If she’s off sick it could be the same rules as everybody else, but she misses out on rewards due to no fault of her own.”
Another mum, Michelle Evans, 35, from Birmingham, said she has also experienced the negative side of attendance rewards despite her daughter not having a chronic condition.
“My six-year-old daughter Olivia had 100% attendance going in to her last term in Year 1 last year,” Evans told HuffPost UK.
“In the last week she was told because of her attendance she would be going on a trip to the local bowling alley with other children in the school who had also achieved 100% attendance.
“She was so excited, she was given a menu to bring home so we could pick her meal choice.
“Unfortunately, mid-week Olivia started being sick at home straight after I collected her from school. I rang in the next day to say she wouldn’t be in. They told me she would need to be off school for 48 hours after her last period of sickness.
“I asked them if this would result in her losing 100% attendance award for that year and was told yes.
“Her two-day sickness for that year meant she would lose her award for her attendance and could not go on the trip.”
When we asked for parents’ views on Facebook, many others also shared experiences of when their child missed out on attendance awards due to circumstances outside of their control.
One mum wrote: “My eldest daughter got her 100% attendance award, but her sister didn’t because she had to have booked hospital appointments every six weeks, for around a year and a half.
“Had it not been for those she’d have scored 100% just like her big sister. Its a shame because she wasn’t skiving off. She had booked and notified, unavoidable appointments.”
Back in July 2017, one mum shared how she wasn’t going to let her son accept his 100% attendance reward at school. Rachel Wright said she felt it was wrong that kids were rewarded for not having time off.
“100% attendance awards can demonise the weakest,” she wrote. “In our family you are not shamed for ill health, vulnerability or weakness.”
School attendance and behaviour guidance from the Department for Education states the decision of whether to have attendance rewards sits with local authorities and schools.
“Local authorities and all schools have legal powers to use parenting contracts, parenting orders and penalty notices to address poor attendance and behaviour in school,” the report stated.
“In addition to using these powers, local authorities and schools can develop other practices to improve attendance.”
In response to the petition, a Department for Education spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “We know how important it is that children with medical conditions are supported to enjoy a full education and children should not be penalised for absences related to their medical condition.
“That’s why in 2014, we introduced a new duty in the Children and Families Act 2014 to require governing bodies to make arrangements to support pupils with medical conditions. We also provided statutory guidance outlining schools’ responsibilities in this area.”