It’s that time of year again where the school year is drawing to a close and all sorts of exciting things are happening in school; end of year plays, class parties and celebration assemblies. It’s also the time when school secretaries across the land are scouring attendance records to see who gets to receive their certificate for 100% attendance.
In all of the schools that I’ve taught full time in, children have always been rewarded for 100% attendance, usually just with a certificate. Nothing else, just a little piece of paper to say well done and a handshake from the head teacher. I don’t really see a problem with that. (I’m not talking about elaborate trips of exclusive parties that are only for those with 100% attendance. I must admit, I’m with the naysayers on that one, as I think it’s too divisive.)
Recently, though, I’ve been hearing some strong views about how awful it is that children are rewarded for achieving 100% attendance. I’ve heard phrases like, “It’s down the the mum, not the child” and “It’s completely out of their control, why should they be rewarded for it?”
Well I’m sorry, I don’t agree. In many cases, sadly, it is down to the child to get themselves to school on time, especially once they reach junior school age. I am not saying that it’s right, but that’s how it is. Unfortunately, there are parents out there who don’t motivate their children to get out of bed and get to school on time, as they would rather have them at home with them. Or, they simply can’t be bothered to make sure they get to school. Or worse, they aren’t even out of bed themselves in the morning when the school bell rings. For an eleven year old who is more than capable of getting themselves dressed and to school, that certificate is a brilliant motivator.
On the other hand, there are children who know that they can play their parents for some time off school. I remember vividly an occasion where a child told me that they had been sick in the toilets at lunchtime. They’d been complaining of a stomach ache all morning, there was a bug going around, so of course I didn’t doubt them and phoned the parent to pick up their child and take them home.
Sure enough, the child was back in school the next morning. Was it because they were desperate for their 100% attendance certificate? No. It was because their mum had seen through the charade and realised that their child hadn’t actually been sick at all; she’d told me a porkie pie and made a miraculous recovery when she got home! But not all parents are like that, and would happily keep their child off school for an extra day.
Of course, I don’t think that children who are genuinely suffering from a sickness bug should be in school. It’s no good to anyone if they come in spewing their guts up and take down six of their classmates and a teacher in the process. But too often, some parents (I said some, not all!) are too soft on their children. The slightest sniffle, and they’re kept at home. I’m sorry, but I don’t think that having a bit of a cold is a legitimate reason for having a day off school.
Then there’s the whole term time holiday debate. I don’t really want to get into it here, as I reckon this post is probably long enough, but children get plenty of time off school throughout the year (god knows people go on enough about the amount of holidays teachers get!), without needing to have a further fortnight away from lessons because their parents would rather have two weeks’ holiday in term time than one in the holidays. If a child saying, “but dad, I won’t get my 100% attendance!” means that they don’t miss two weeks of valuable learning time, then I’m all for it.
The purpose of rewarding attendance isn’t to make children drag themselves to school when they’re at death’s door; it’s to make them, and their parents, think twice before having a day off. You’d be surprised how many parents give their children a day off for a ‘treat’. Not illness, not to give them a particularly amazing experience that would be impossible to have at the weekend or during the holidays, just a day at home or out shopping, to have some time together. It’s often these same parents who then complain that their child hasn’t made enough progress that year. Hmm, I wonder why that could be?
Having witnessed several school halls full of children in celebration assembly when certificates are awarded, there’s rarely a child in tears because they didn’t get that bit of paper. Most of the time, they just shrug and say, “well, I had that sickness bug three weeks ago so that’s why I didn’t get it.” No one is caused long-term psychological damage because they didn’t receive their 100% attendance certificate.
Children aren’t daft. They are able to rationalise and understand why they haven’t received that certificate. If they can’t, then it’s our job as teachers (and the parents’ job as parents) to help them understand and not feel unhappy about it for long. Contrary to popular belief, teachers don’t use 100% attendance awards as a metaphorical stick to beat the children in their class with; I rarely mentioned it throughout the year. But there were children who were determined to receive that certificate, and often, it motivated their friends to achieve it too.
As adults, we can’t simply take a day off work whenever we feel like it; school is no different. It’s not rocket science; children who attend school more, perform better. Why wouldn’t you want to encourage your child to do that?