Going to school is clearly a ‘good thing’ and we should be encouraging children to attend.
However, schools that award children certificates, badges and special treats for ‘100% Attendance’ contribute to presenteeism and that is far from good. It’s hard to imagine that some schools offer financial rewards but they do: ‘Any class with the magic 100% attendance wins £10!’
Unwittingly or consciously, schools are pressurising children to attend school even when they are ill. Staff too for that matter.
I’ve seen one child paraded in front of the whole school for ‘never having a day off in the whole of her junior school career’. That’s great but what message does this send out? Are we rewarding immune systems?
There are worse examples and it has to stop.
Sickness presenteeism is rife in workplaces and we seem to be encouraging it right from when children are in Reception! This is clearly bad practice when you consider that some children aren’t blessed with good health. We will be introducing the Bradford Factor for children’s attendance before you know it!
What about children with a range of illnesses, disabilities and protected characteristics? Some children will always need time off school and they will never be able to get that 100% Attendance certificate. Some children will have chronic illnesses, some will have accidents and some will just be unlucky and get sick. We can’t punish children for being unwell!
To reward someone for turning up to school is discriminatory because it punishes the sick.
Turning up to school is an achievement for some children who are poorly. 100% Attendance is not an achievement.
As teachers we might feel the pressure to be at school if we are unwell and ‘soldier on’. But this mentality is all wrong because sick employees are unproductive and there is a good chance you will be passing something on to the school population. Sickness presenteeism is a risk factor for future poor health and mental wellbeing.
Of course, we can’t just blame schools. Parents can be ruthless and reckless when it comes to their children’s health. I’ve had lots of sick children turn up to school who needed to be in bed and resting yet mum and dad decide to use the school as a babysitting service.
The clearest articulation of ‘ableism’ I have seen comes from Rachel Wright, the parent of a child with complex disabilities. In her words, 100% attendance schemes and class attendance competitions are actively detrimental to school life because:
- they demonstrate exclusion, not inclusion, by discounting children with disabilities or chronic conditions
- children are encouraged to view their peers with disabilities or chronic conditions as weak, problematic and detrimental to class targets
- children are encouraged to go to school when sick and spread infections
- as soon as a child has one day off in the academic year, all incentive measures are nullified
- schools should be encouraging improvement not perfection
- a school that determines a vomiting child must not attend for 24-hours then excludes the same child from attendance rewards, is setting children up to fail and rewarding outcomes that are beyond their control
- 100% targets do not foster or recognise characteristics of determination, persistence or hard work.
- they do not affect those who are directly responsible for school attendance – parents
Any Senior Leaders out there rewarding 100% Attendance are clueless.