School attendance reward schemes – Not an inclusive solution!

I’m writing this blog with my teacher, SENDco and parent hats on.
Up until a few years ago I’d been an advocate for attendance reward programmes. Working in a school where we had many children with poor attendance (some as low as 20%) something needed to be done. It was a key factor in OFSTED’s findings and had a major, negative impact on learning for those children. Reasons for absences were varied; some were down to children just not being brought into school, others were children with recurring illnesses or long-term illnesses or illnesses that took a while to go away e.g. glandular fever etc. Then there were the children who were unlucky enough to catch everything going around, the families that took several holidays a year in term time (some took up to 3) and the children whose parent (sometimes sole parent) had mental health issues and were unable to fully engage with school.
We implemented a variety of reward schemes including termly certificates with a voucher for those who attended all year, class rewards, raffles etc. And yes, I can honestly say attendance did improve but alongside this we allocated a designated person to chase up repeatedly absent children and to work with the LA welfare officer.
However, a few years ago we sadly had two children in school both diagnosed with cancer. As you can imagine, for the best part of at least a year they couldn’t attend school and when they returned to school it was a phased return. They had regular hospital appointments and couldn’t attend if certain infections were in school. This got me thinking! How on Earth is this fair and inclusive? These children had been through a horrendous illness, surgical procedures and were attending school whenever they were able only to be told they couldn’t attend the reward party/treat because they’d missed school.
After training to become a SENDco I realised that many children miss school for appointments and assessments. For example, CAMHS would often require children to attend appointments during the day. They do not offer out of school hours (and why would they? They’d only manage to fit half the number of cases in and they are in crisis as it is) and if you fail to show for appointments your case can often be dismissed or returned to a pile. So, once again, a child missing a few days of school for these appointments would be penalised with regards to attendance rewards, even if they’d only been missing for half a day.
Additionally, if a child leaves and return to school for a doctors or dental appointment then they are marked as in school. If a child has an early appointment and arrives half an hour late – a medical reason is noted in the register and it’s classed as a morning’s absence. Not all appointments can be given outside school and health comes before anything else.
In a world where we are constantly fighting for inclusion, surely this is classed as not inclusive and discriminates against children who maybe need those rewards the most. Wouldn’t it be better to not reward children for attendance? – after all, primary school children have no choice in the matter anyway. It’s parental responsibility to ensure children are in school. I believe the first step would be to look at why children are not in school. Can parents be supported? I know many schools where staff collect children if there is an issue of parental illness or if the child is a refuser. If there is no real genuine reason for non-attendance, isn’t this where school welfare officers come in and early help teams? Why punish and give shame to the child?
It’s not inclusive, it’s not fair and it’s discrimination!

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46 thoughts on “School attendance reward schemes – Not an inclusive solution!

  1. Really glad you wrote about this. These kinds of programs promote sending kids to school when sick, which spreads germs. My husband is a teacher and he always has kids come to school sick so they can keep their perfect attendance. Except that our boys have compromised immune systems so anything he brings home usually lands them in the hospital. We should be teaching kids and families to practice self-care when sick by staying home, taking care of yourself, and not spreading germs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. A point I missed. We had a spate of teacher sickness lat year which had us very low on staff.lots of children coming in and saying they had been sick the night before. Some of that is the attendance but also some is when can’t be bothered to keep off. 48 hours clear is the rule.
      It also makes life difficult for anyone who is vulnerable. Xx
      Thank you for reading

      Like

  2. This is a really interesting post. I am training to be an Early Years Practitioner and we are always taught to be inclusive all of the time and yet how can these sort of schemes be inclusive? It is such a strange line because you want to give the kids incentive to turn up to school but also want to make sure kids that are unable to do it aren’t feeling ashamed or worse than before
    Alex x
    http://allthingsalexx.wordpress.com

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post about a really important issue. I agree with you that for uncontrollable reasons, full attendance can’t always occur and the system of rewards should be more inclusive. Can’t CAMHs and other such appointments count as non absences so children don’t get penalised for that being a day off maybe?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel.that proven medical appointments shouldn’t count as absent as there’s no choice in the matter at all. I think it should be unauthorised only that are counted. But even children who don’t attend regularly are not at fault and don’t deserve the humiliation.

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  4. I agree. My son’s school last year used to call out each child’s with 100% attendance that week to collect a certificate and assembly which I totally disagree with and think it’s totally unfair. Luckily there’s no children this year so they stop doing that which I think is a lot better way of managing it. X

    Liked by 1 person

  5. #ablogginggoodtime yup, I’ve had that role. It sucks – angry parents of poorly children write letters about percentage cut offs, nobody is ever happy. Mind you, one of my realisations is that travel companies should be penalised / not schools for inflating travel during school time. I think it’s outrageous

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I totally agree. My in-laws take my son every year and for missing the last day of spring 1 term, they save hundreds.
      I think if attendance is generally good then some holiday allowance should be there.
      The doctors go mental as our poor attendees need proof everyone I’ll so they have to go to the doctors for things that don’t need it.

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  6. My kids primary school had reward days and special treats (trips to the circus/picnics/a visit from the animal man etc.) for the kids that never lost a day, and if they managed an entire school year without a day off then they were put in a draw for a new bike. Certificates are one thing, but treats like this are really not fair. I have two kids who nearly always make 100% attendance and one that has improved to her best of 82% It’s not the kids faults that they are sick, or the parents. So, I’m totally with you on this one.
    #mixitup

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You have brought to light a topic that needs to be addressed. There are many health related reasons for a child to miss school. I am a firm believer that if a child is ill they should remain home and not endanger the health of those at school who may have a weaker immune system. There should never be a penalty when we are having a discussion about the welfare of our children. Are there currently any organizations that address this issue? Thank you for bringing this to light and making it an important topic of discussion.

    Nancy | http://myeverydaychallenges.com/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading.
      I think the issue us that schools can fail OFSTEDs based on poor attendance there’s pressure on them. I don’t think the rewards make a difference as it’s parental decisions at the age I’m talking about. Each school set a their own policies too. X

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  8. Absolutely brilliant post! I am with you on this. I do not agree that attendance and reward schemes should go hand in hand. Not only does it promote sending children to school poorly, but it also disciplines children for being poorly, something that is out of their control! One of my sons has a neurological disorder and some days struggles to go to school as he cant handle it. It’s all about figures and targets now, the welfare of the children has gone out of the window.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A friend once told me that her son was really embarrassed because he was given a high attendance award at school, he said it was his mum’s fault for making him go every day #itsok@_karendennis

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have always felt incredibly uncomfortable about attendance award schemes for the very reasons you discuss here. My son’s school used to do a class ‘cup’ every week for attendance – it just meant that some children would moan at their classmates if they were off school as it would mean they wouldn’t get the reward for the class – not an ideal situation and certainly not encouraging teamwork, compassion, empathy etc! #thesatsesh xx

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow, I never looked at school attendance rewards in this light, but what you point out is extremely important and makes so much sense! Most children don’t attend for no real fault of their own (illness or parental illness), and should not be shamed for it. Instead, support and help should be provided to reach the root of the problem and find a solution. Great post, sharing! Thank you for joining us on the #itsok linky with this fab post.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My boy has autism and struggled with the school environment. We’re home educating him now, but he would have issues with attendance if he was at school, both due to sensory issues, stress/anxiety, and sleep issues (not easy making it through a day at school when you’ve had next to no sleep) etc.
    Special needs should definitely be considered when discussing attendance.
    Also, to reward those who get highest attention is madness! That means encouraging kids to attend school when they’re ill, causing others to get ill, as well as potentially risking the lives of those with extra sensitive immune systems. They shouldn’t be rewarded for attending school when poorly, they should be fined!
    The whole thing is just utter madness… #MixItUp

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is something that definitely needs looking at. My daughter has complex medical needs and is under 4 different hospital consultants so she has regular medical appointments, tests, scans, etc. Last year, she had a major operation and was in hospital for a week, as well as needing recovery time at home. I was very upset when school sent me a “low attendance” letter, explaining that children who don’t attend school regularly get left behind. I rang school and was assured that the letters are sent out automatically once a child’s attendance gets below a certain percentage so I didn’t need to worry about it. But, as a parent, it was very distressing – I was already worried about her school work (obviously as well as all the worries about her operation and health) and getting left behind, but to have it in writing from the school made it so much worse, especially as this is a lifelong condition so she will miss A LOT of school over the years.

    Having said this, I do appreciated that some parents and children need the motivation to be in school. I do think it needs to be handled sensitively, though #blogcrush

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading.
      It is a big issue as I know letters are often automatically generated but it’s not fair to put additional stress on already stressed parents. Surely if it’s medical appointments and genuine absences it needs handling differently.

      Like

  14. I agree. I am a former teacher. I retired after 30+ years. There was just an article in our local paper. Some of the school districts in our county have chronic absenteeism rates of 25% That’s incredible! The rate at the school where I taught was 4%. You can’t compare the 2 schools – not fair to the low-performing one. All (most) parents WANT their kids to go to school.

    Liked by 1 person

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