Schools and Why This Obsession With Attendance Needs to Stop

Schools and Why This Obsession With Attendance Needs to Stop

Schools and Why This Obsession With Attendance Needs to Stop

At some point since I was at school, the system seems to have become obsessed with numbers, stats and attendance percentages. I never remember my Mum being concerned about how much time we had off school, other than arranging the necessary childcare for us if she was working. And, trust me, due to an on-going health problem I was off a lot during my secondary school years.

Last week, we received a letter from school raising concerns about Aria’s attendance. This is after her first term in reception, aged 4 years old. I have to admit to finding the tone of the communication frustrating. I will quote a small section:

“Although I realise there may have been good reasons for absence in this period, Aria’s attendance will be closely monitored over the next term, during which a significant improvement will be expected. I am sure this will be the case.”

Ironically, this came a day after parent’s evening where I was old Aria was doing extremely well. Other than one unauthorised absence when we took her out on the last day of term for a weekend away (we could not go in half term due to my husband’s work commitments), all of the days have been because she was ill.

Let’s break it down:

  • 1 day unauthorised holiday
  • 3 days for a stomach bug and high fever
  • 1 day up all night coughing and then went to the doctors to get her chest checked (currently being assessed for asthma)
  • 1 day migraine/severe headache – not eating and just wanted to sleep

Current absence: 92.5% / 6 days off school

All of these absences have been explained to school with a written letter each time. You could argue that maybe we should not have taken her out on the last day of term in October, so that is on us. However, all of the other absences are legitimate sickness or following the school’s 48 hour rule after sickness or diarrhoea – something I fully support.

How as a mother, can I improve on these numbers? At 4 she is still so small and building up her immune system. It is something entirely out of my hands. What happens if she has the same amount of time off sick next term?

The government has targeted schools with 95% attendance from their pupils and a school must make a welfare referral when a child’s attendance drops below 85%.

The school’s letter was clearly automated, sent out to pupils when they hit a certain percentage of attendance. I also understand they are trying to succeed against government targets. But are they really necessary?

I believe attendance programmes often have a negative impact on children and on schools.

Encourages Spread of Illness

Encouraging children to return to school as soon as possible or to not take days off encourages the spread of illness.

Just this week, a school in Southampton has had to close the school because a strain of flu has circulated so rapidly, half of its staff are unwell. Last winter a local secondary school had to be closed and deep cleaned because of the spread of the Norovirus.

Let them take time off, let them recover, let their parents make the right choices for them. They are their parents after all. They will come back and function better, spread less germs and be happier. It will also mean less sick children over all.

Punishing Children for Being Unwell

100% attendance rewards punishes children for being unwell, for something that is out of their control. Furthermore, it ostracises children who suffer with on-going health issues who for them it is hard enough to make it to keep up with their peers some days. They should be abolished and the focus be on a child’s success through skill, dedication or tenacity instead.

Time for Change?

School resources are over-stretched and teachers over worked. As always, I am grateful for them. But we must remember that while learning is important, raising a well adjusted, happy and healthy child is paramount. Not government touted statistics that take the focus away from the true reason they are there in the first place.

I’m not endorsing truancy, that is an entirely different subject. I know that good school attendance and academic success go hand in hand. Education is so important. I’m talking about allowing children what they need in order to get well again, and trusting parents to make the right decision for their children. Not sending them to school with tonsillitis, or a raised fever like it has been suggested in some regions.

Let’s ditch the automated letters and suspicion that parents are just trying to cheat the system somehow. Instead let’s work on how to make make the school a better place and children to be the best they can be.

In the mean time, I am considering burning my letter, anyone want to join me?

6 thoughts on “Schools and Why This Obsession With Attendance Needs to Stop

  1. As a parent of three and a teaching assistant I see this from both sides of the coin. I feel there is too much pressure on absence for legitimate reasons. If you are ill you are ill and I hate seeing children in my class struggling through the day when they should be at home on the sofa. I know parents struggle with sick kids when they work , me included, but an extra day at home is better than going back too soon I feel. I don’t want to pick up bugs and illness in class to pass onto my family either. I do disagree with the giving out of attendence certificates, my school does it and For those with genuine issues it can be upsetting.

  2. I don’t agree with the penalising of children/parents for any absences. It’s shown not to be effective and it should be up to parents. It’s ridiculous. Things that were never an issue when we were growing up are now made out to be the bee all and end all.

  3. My girls school insist that as soon as they are well they go to even if they can still pass on whatever they have. My youngest vomited one morning and I rang up to say she would be off and the person on the phone said if she doesn’t vomit any more be sure to send her in on the afternoon. Ugh! No chance and I was told that my teen having a period was not a good enough excuse. She was on heavy, had cramps, was vomiting and just felt rotten. It is ridiculous!
    There is quite a few schools up here being closed for cleaning to get rid of bugs.
    I went crazy with the school a few years ago. The kids were rewarded at the end of term with bouncy castles and a party if they had 100% attendance. My teen who was then about 9 years old was not off sick but for appointments at the hospital due to her dodgy heart. She was punished for having a heart defect that she was born with. x

  4. It’s awful. I know we are probably going to end up with a letter for my two older children as we have been plagued with germs last term vomiting bugs, upset stomachs and high temps. I most definitely keep them off for the 48hr rule as not to pass on to others or the staff.

    As long as children are in school only off when needed and not having days off all the time what’s the problem. Appointments aren’t always possible to have during after school hours especially at the hospital etc.

    I don’t agree with prizes either for 100% attendance. As children have genuine reasons for absence and it’s so upsetting if some get a prize/reward and others get penalised for been ill xxx

  5. I just feel so terrible for children with a low immune system who must repeatedly pick things up from children whose parents are trying to comply with school policy. Luckily ours are incredibly understanding and don’t want children in if they’re poorly. My eldest has a lot of hospital appointments and we’ve never had any issues with school.
    Nat.x

  6. I totally agree with this, we have had letters home this year about my 5 year old’s attendance too. She was off for 5 days due to a nasty chest infection as she has asthma and was on antibiotics and then she has missed two days due to getting a tooth removed at hospital and three days due to sickness and not being allowed in school. We have been told she is being monitored and they will make a home visit, its crazy as her younger brother is always in school when she is off and has ‘good’ attendance over 97% so it is not like we just can’t be bothered to send her to school or something. So many people now seem to be sending children to school as they are unwell and it is just spreading germs all round the school and making things worse xx

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