We all know that good attendance at school is beneficial for all involved, but sometimes, having a day or two off is unavoidable.
Schools usually have a 48-hour sickness policy in place meaning a child cannot return until 48 hours after a diarrhoea or vomiting incident. This is to stop bugs from spreading. Unfortunately, not everyone adheres to this because of the impact having a child home, who is ill, can have.
Recently, I shared a post on Facebook, which included a letter stating a pupil would not be able to attend the school’s end of year treat: a trip to Drayton Manor. The reason ticked was a lower than required attendance. In fact, the reason stated: “Attendance: more than ten half days [five full days] absence and/or holiday taken during term time”.
The other two possible reasons, which could have been ticked, were:
- Exceeded 6 penalty points (Includes: punctuality, effort, behaviour, uniform and homework)
- Joined the school more than halfway through the year
I’m not naive enough to think that there is an attendance issue for some pupils in some schools, but penalising children for being ill and not coming into school, spreading their sickness bug around, seems very unfair. Surely, this is actually encouraging parents to return their offspring to school before they are actually ready. Moreover, how about the chronically ill children? The ones who have life-limiting conditions? What about the boy whose anorexia got a grip and he had to spend a few weeks in a rehabilitation centre? Or what about the girl who was hit by a car whilst doing her paper round? Missing a few weeks of school does not automatically determine that a child is not hardworking, determined, polite, punctual, well-behaved and, above all, desperately wanting to get an education, despite their unique circumstances. Of course, not all absence is due to illness. The issue of taking holiday and family days out during term time, however, is for another day…
So, is an end of year treat really ever the right way to go about encouraging better attendance figures? Does it even scratch the surface as to the reasons some students do not attend school regularly? My answer to both of those questions is ‘No’ and I’m not the only one who feels like this.
Claire Staquet, mother of two primary-aged girls, feels that this type of punishment is ‘awful’ and determines that one of her daughters, who is prone to illness, “would miss the trip every year if ours did this!” Teacher, Charlotte Campbell, also believes that the punishment is unfair for those who are absent due to illness and asserts that her own child would end up missing reward trips such as this one because of existing health conditions. However, she also states that, “Consistent poor behaviour though in school should be punished.” Charlotte also questions the lack of trip for those who have joined the school part way through the year, opining that the new “child may be the best behaved child in the school!”
I am in agreement with Charlotte on this matter. There are countless reasons why there might be a newcomer in a school: from domestic violence to bullying, from being a forces family to being made to sell a house. When a child moves to a new area and is trying to settle into a new school, is ostracising that child really giving out the right message? Time out of school can be invaluable for cementing friendships and overcoming fears. What good will excluding the new kid actually do?
Headteacher, Phil Allman, also has “a real problem with this. Reasons for absence can vary hugely. It’s the same as giving out 100% attendance awards.” What does 100% attendance tell us about someone? That they have been lucky enough not to need time off school! Surely, that is the only sensible conclusion one can come to regarding that question.
I once encountered someone whose child kicked up a huge fuss about going to her grandfather’s funeral because she was so worried about the impact it would have on her attendance figures. No one should have to worry about needing time off for illness or to attend important family events, whether funerals or weddings. Since when has a supposedly caring and nurturing profession become so cold and inconsiderate?