Monday, 12 February 2018

No School Attendance Policy will Prevent Childhood Illness

Pencil and sharpenings with text overlaid
School absence is a subject that comes up a lot these days. It's a society-wide issue, for many reasons and is often a subject of media scrutiny. It can be to blame for everything from criminal activity to unemployment statistics and, whilst I am not denying it's an issue, I'm really starting to think Ofsted have got it a bit wrong. To be clear, I fully support the need for children to be in school, but there are always going to be issues that cause a child to be absent, such as illness, and this is partly what I want to focus on. I realise holidays in term time are another issue, but that is a big enough issue for a whole new post!

When I worked for a major supermarket, they were always very keen to reduce sick days amongst staff, to increase productivity, improve morale, etc etc, so they introduced various initiatives to try to 'discourage' workers from calling in sick. It was a long time ago, but I do remember that there were reward schemes for not being ill and also a letter that was sent out if you did take time off sick. I never received the letter, but from what I was told, it emphasised how important it was to support the other members of your team and not to let them down by failing to show up for work. It wasn't long before the union got wind of this and pointed out that; you can't penalise people for being off sick and it doesn't do to suggest that anyone is being less than honest about the extent of their illness. So, it is unacceptable to pass comment on an adult who has time off sick, so why is it okay to persecute children who are unwell? This is the situation many children are facing, particularly in secondary school, when they catch something, which they will, because that's what children do. I have seen evidence of pupils being rewarded for not being off, which is a little unfair if the absence is out of the child's hands, such as genuine illness or a family emergency. I have also heard of children being singled out, with others under a certain percentage, and spoken to about the error of their ways and how they won't get a good job if they don't improve. Also a little harsh if they have a genuine reason for not being there. The schools have little choice in the matter, though, because Ofsted set pretty high standards when it comes to how many students turn up for lessons, demanding no less than 97% attendance over the year. To give a little context, 95% represents ten days per year, which is 2.5 days per term. Since 48 hours from the last vomit is mandatory for a sick bug, that's one sick bug, virus,  or heavy cold per term. Throw in the occasional funeral, or other family situation and 97% is starting to look pretty unrealistic.

It is normal and expected for children to catch viruses and there are good reasons not to send them to school while they are contagious. Sort of obvious ones really, like; children need to rest to get better, the school do not have the resources or time to look after them, they will be useless anyway and, the most important one, they will infect everyone around them. I'm not suggesting that children should stay home with every little sniffle, but if there is a plague going around, what is the point of sending them to school to give it to everyone else? Surely, if they stay home for a couple of days, less people will catch it and there will be less absence in the long run? Also reducing the risk of passing it on to someone who has vulnerable family members at home, such as babies and elderly people. The difference with children, as opposed to adults, is that they have less life experience to decide if they are genuinely dicing with death, or if they will be fine with a Lemsip and half a pack of Oreos. So, sometimes, we the parents have to make that judgement call. This is where it can get tricky, because not all children appreciate having to go to school, a bit like work, we've all had days where we would rather phone in sick. so, it is important to try to establish whether they really do need to be home. This is where we can all do our bit to support schools and ensure our children attend as often as possible.

Plate of Oreos

Some time ago, I wrote a post about when your child doesn't want to go to school and there was a lot of advice on how to tackle this issue, based on my own experiences. One point I made was that days off sick should not be fun. If a child is off school ill, they should be resting, not on their games console, not out of bed and definitely not outside playing! It might seem a little harsh, as we must assume they are genuinely ill, but if you think about it, if they are well enough to do those things, they could probably manage at school and it's in everybody's interests not to make days off too appealing. This is where I think schools, and Ofsted, could really help with this issue, by supporting parents when their child is unwell. It would be really good if there was work available for children to do at home, so that they don't fall behind and also so that they realise that they can't avoid certain lessons, or homework, by exaggerating an illness. Making information available to parents would be good too, for example not all parents know that school attendance is counted in sessions, which is morning and afternoon. This means that if the little cherub makes a miraculous recovery after the bell goes and is driving you up the wall, you can take them in after lunch for a couple of hours, then they only miss one session. Helpful if they are not really well enough for a full day, but you don't want them to miss out altogether, too.

Most parents want their children in school, we want them to go on to have good jobs and do well, not to mention having jobs ourselves, which don't often lend themselves to staying at home with our children at short notice. Sometimes, though, life happens and I think the education system is barking up the wrong tree with these attendance expectations. Firstly, even at secondary school, children have very little control over their own lives. It's not often their decision if they are off school or not. It's us who decide if they are well enough to go or not, or if a family occasion demands their attendance. So, if anything, it should be us who are getting the talking to about how two days off a term is going to damage their grade and their whole future hangs in the balance. Better still, though, it's time we started to work together to get the best attendance possible for each individual child, whatever that may be, and stop using the same old 'one size fits all' strategies. Yes, it would be wonderful if every child turned up for every session, but if that can't happen, let's work with that. Can they make the work up at home, after school, in break time? Making students realise that they won't gain anything from being off is the first step in tackling exaggerated illness, and those are the incidences that need to be targeted, not the genuine illness that no one has any control over. Above all else, Ofsted need to set a more realistic target and stop with the scare stories, because I don't believe for one minute that two days off a term is going to affect a child's future, particularly not if they have the opportunity to catch up when they can.


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12 comments

  1. This is an interesting read. It's always a fine line realising how serious an illness is to warrant time off school. Our boys are not yet in school. Will be interesting to see how this pans out when they start.

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  2. Bit of a catch 22, send them to school sick and, naturally, it doesn't go down well!

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  3. This is so interesting. My eldest has just had 10 days off with asthma related illness and there was nothing at all we could do about it. He's been called in over his attendance but there is nothing he could have done, he was in hospital three times and panicking the whole time about his attendance!

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  4. Don't even get me started on the education system, like you said when a child's absence is due to illness or something else, there is nothing that you can do to stop that. Why should a child be punished for being unwell? It does not seem right to me!

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  5. School attendance is definitely something that weighs on my mind quite often. My son recently had time off because he caught Chicken pox and the school app kept telling us how low his attendance was getting each day. It was almost like they wanted us to bring him in just to keep attendance up (which obviously I didn't). I hate the pressure it puts on parents and makes us feel like we cant allow our children to get better fully before returning through fear of being called up on attendance matters!

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  6. Children are ill, a lot, to expect otherwise is either naive or stupid. As an ex teacher and now home educator, you can probably guess which camp I think Ofsted falls into ;-) But of course, we're only parents, we know nothing!

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  7. This is a major issue I hear. My kids are still in pre school so not dealing with it yet thankfully.

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  8. A great post. I, too, believe that this one-size-fits-all attitude towards schooling is outdated and, while I appreciate funding and staffing can't always allow for individual circumstances to be taken into account, things need to change. As you've said it is often not the child's choice to be out of school and it is definitely not on to single them out for attendance that is less than perfect. Illnesses and family emergencies should be taken into account.

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  9. School attendance is something I worry about a bit. My Daughter came home upset last week as one of her friends got into trouble for having too much time of school being poorly. She turned to me and asked if she will get in trouble too. I told her not to worry to tell the teacher to phone me up if she thought she was going to get into trouble. It has been a rough year for her last year and this year as she has a tumour in her eye, vitiligo, and now diagnosed with Celiac disease and also had flu. She as had to have a bit of time off school but she would rather be fit and well at school any day. Another hospital visit tomorrow and more time off school :(

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  10. In order to fully recover, the first thing one needs to do is to rest. I remember this awkward feeling when I had to go to school when I was ill. Sometimes I would not stoo caughing for a good 20minutes.it was horrible.

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  11. This is a really interesting post. Like you say this is something that has been widely talked about within society and schools do seem to be taking it much more seriously. If your kids ill though, what can you do?!

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  12. My daughter got shingles and missed 3days if school.....so she missed her 100% for the year. She had been at school ALL year until this. Why should she be punished? It wasn't her fault.

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