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!