Rewards for school attendance send out the wrong message

CROYDON COMMENTARY: Just who are those attendance certificates that the children brought back from school at the end of term for: the kids, or their parents? KIRSTIE SMITH has a view

Many children will have come home after their last day at school before Christmas with certificates at the end of term for 100 per cent attendance. While this might seem lovely, is it actually an award for the children, or their parents?

What about the children who can never achieve 100 per cent attendance?

Certainly, when of primary school age, attendance is something the children have little or no control over. In most cases, it is parents, grandparents or child-minders that get the children to school. There aren’t many children in a primary school who will be old enough to take the responsibility of getting themselves there.

Therefore, there’s limited opportunity for the under-10s to “bunk off”.

It’s the parents or guardians who decide if a child will be taken out of school in term time in order that a family holiday can be substantially cheaper, and perhaps the only opportunity to spend quality time together away from the stresses of everyday life.

So why do children receive these certificates? Why do schools feel the need to focus on rewarding attendance?

‘Please, miss, what happens if there’s no one to bring me to school to collect my attendance certificate?’

Of course, attendance at school is important.

However, there will be children, in every school, who can never achieve 100 per cent attendance through no fault of their own. Children with medical conditions often need to miss lessons because they have medical appointments, which are almost always during the day. There’s also children with low immune systems who will catch every bug doing the rounds and will need to take time off to recuperate. There are children who need a stay in hospital. And there’s children with families that may not quite be as straightforward as society would like and therefore require additional help.

Rewarding attendance encourages parents to send children in when they might not quite be well enough to attend. That means an increase in the possibility of germs being spread around the classroom. Not just to the other children, but to the teachers too.

This isn’t putting the children’s or the teachers’ health and well-being first. There’s a lot of pressure on staff not to miss a day’s school, with budgets low – or non-existent – for supply teachers, and this may mean that they, too, strive for full attendance, putting extra pressure on them and their colleagues. Adding extra germs into that mix isn’t really helpful.

Rewarding attendance gives out the wrong message. It teaches children that it’s important to be present all the time. Sounds good, but the reality is this doesn’t prepare them for the real world. At work, I’d much rather have team members who were occasionally absent, who knew they wouldn’t miss out on a “reward” for needing to attend an appointment, but who, when they were present, worked hard.

It’s the working hard that’s important and where children will achieve the most in life. Going to work, being present and doing absolutely nothing isn’t going to get them far.

Children should be rewarded. Absolutely. But for attendance – no. Instead, children should be rewarded for effort. Every child is capable of 100 per cent effort. Whether they are gifted, average or achieve lower attainments, whether they have additional needs, no matter what level a child is capable of achieving, they can always give their work 100 per cent effort.

There is no discrimination here, it doesn’t matter that a child has had a few days off (for whatever reason) and it’s a level playing field.

Ofsted says that “Every Child Matters”. So let’s see that in practice in schools and reward what is truly important.

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