Why we shouldn’t reward children for good attendance at school

This is a rant – prepare yourself!

If you have a child in school, you might understand the constant haranguing they give you about attendance. At the end of last term, I got a note saying that my son had a 97.13% attendance rate (or something like that – they definitely did it to two decimal points) . It said that they wanted to remind me about how important attendance is. I was annoyed by this. His slightly less than perfect attendance record was because of illness – one day for a tummy bug and another for an ongoing investigation for which I provided the school with a paediatrician’s note.

To my ongoing frustration, at every school assembly, they go through each class in the school and announce their attendance rates. Then, the class with the best attendance gets a trophy! At the end of term, pupils with perfect attendance get to stand up in front of the school to be applauded.

I’m aware that Ofsted sets a target of 95% attendance for schools, and schools who don’t work to improve attendance can be penalised. But surely the strategy of rewarding the children is not only completely useless, but also dreadfully unfair for the children?

First of all, many children have less than perfect attendance because of illness. Particularly in the infant school years, bugs are rife. So why should children miss out on a reward because they were forced to stay home puking or trying not to scratch their chicken pox?

Worse than that, what if a child has a chronic illness that causes them to miss large amounts of school? How is it fair to make them feel bad about that further by them never being rewarded for good attendance?

It’s not a child’s fault if they’re ill. Not getting sick does not deserve a reward.

Furthermore, surely the attendance targets are meant to mitigate truancy that is caused by parents. But condescending notes and passive aggressive reward schemes at assemblies are not going to fix the problems. If parents, rather than illness, are causing truancy, there are a few likely causes:

  • They’ve gone on a term-time holiday. I personally believe everyone should be allowed these or schools should have different term times to make holidays affordable. But that’s an argument for another post. Anyway, if a fine doesn’t deter parents from term-time holidays, an attendance trophy sure as heck won’t either.
  • Parents are unwell themselves or in some sort of dire straits with their relationships or finances. These parents probably won’t even come to the family assembly to receive their attendance-related browbeating. And they probably won’t read the condescending notes written on tiny slips of paper and stuffed into their child’s bookbag either.
  • Parents actually just don’t care. I think this is probably pretty rare, but it can happen. This sort of parent will not be motivated to change their behaviour by whether their child’s class gets an attendance trophy.

So, in essence, the notes and trophies are completely meaningless gestures meant to appease Ofsted and other onlookers that the school is acting to prevent truancy. They are going for the low-hanging fruit by guilting and worrying engaged and conscientious parents about their children’s rare days of missed school.

True action to prevent truancy that is actually preventable (i.e. not caused by genuine illness) would involve improving the link between school and parents. I think I’m a fairly engaged parent, and I’m extremely eager to support the school in educating my child. But I also often find the school run intimidating and isolating. Everyone’s rushing. Everyone talks to the people they already know and don’t always put on a friendly face.

I can’t imagine how difficult that might be for someone who was truly struggling with personal, health, social or financial issues.

I don’t have a solution for how things can be fixed. But I do think that schools should focus their efforts on working with social services to truly prevent truancy. I also think they should work harder to build a sense of community within the school and a sense of rapport between teachers and students. How about having the odd social occasion that doesn’t involve more bleeding fundraising? I would love to speak to my son’s teachers when we weren’t all busy and running off to the next thing. I don’t even know the teaching assistants’ names.

So, yes, this is a rant. But it’s also an appeal to stop using an ineffective and excluding method to improve attendance. In order to participate in any community, people need to feel like that community is ready to accept and support them. Building such a community is where the real work of improving attendance could be done.

Does your school reward attendance? Do you think it works?

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Two Tiny Hands
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36 thoughts on “Why we shouldn’t reward children for good attendance at school

  1. I totally agree, they don’t want you to send the children to school ill so they have to accept there will be times when they are absent! I don’t agree with children being punished for being late either because, particularly for primary aged children, it’s the responsibility of the parent to get the child to school on time and the reason for lateness should be taken up with them. #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my God I couldn’t agree with this more! I have actually ripped up those notes in front of my children and told them what a load of rubbish it is and to ignore it. You make excellent points here. It leads to children having a go at other children because they made the class miss out on the good attendance treat/trophy etc and how is that helpful when the child has been ill!? Brilliant post. #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My daughter isn’t in school yet, but I totally agree! My mom was a primary school teacher and never had an issue with parents taking their kids on holiday (obviously not more the once a year!) she thought the kids learnt a lot being away, and she’d always give them some work (just the essentials, didn’t want to overload them!) so they weren’t behind when the came back. I think punishing or turning kids against each other with these attendance trophies is stupid. Doesn’t help surely?! #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’re completely correct, elementary aged children are not able to get themselves awake and to school if their parents are not helping. Kids do not have the option to skip a doctor’s appointment their mother set up, they can’t tell their parents they will not be going on that family vacation happening during the school year. Kids are not the ones responsible for their absences.
    And, like you said, they get sick and sometimes they get sick often. Does the school want all the sick kids to show up and spread it around?!

    My dad was in the Navy and I would mis school when he would deploy. I would miss one day, because I wanted to say goodbye to him on the pier, knowing I wouldn’t get to see him or talk to him again for at least 6 months. My teachers would encourage my absence, along with my brothers. Sometimes the most important thing in a family’s life is not school attendance, especially if the student is not falling behind and getting poor grades.

    It’s funny to read this post today because just this morning a friend came to me crying. Our husbands are both submariners and hers just returned from a 7 month deployment with no phone calls and no email. She decided to pull her kids out of school for the remainder of the week to stay at home with dad. She knew they wouldn’t be able to leave him. School calls and threatens to send the police. She gets scared and takes them to school where one of her kids picked a fight with other students in order to be suspended for the rest of the week. Her other child sobbed uncontrollably in class, disturbing everyone’s learning until the school finally sent her home. It was so unneccessary since both kids are A students and just wanted to be with dad for a few days- ow one has a suspension on his record and the other has her classmates teasing her for being “a baby.”

    #EatSleepBlogRT

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  5. My daughter isn’t at school but I couldn’t agree more. What you described accomplishes nothing more than making children or parents who care feel bad. Or irritated. I read a month or so ago about a school Ofsted praised for grading parents. GRADING PARENTS! I mean honestly. I completely support measuring schools to ensure quality and consistency. But as my Statistics lecturer once told me, stats can be manipulated and used to prove anything if you don’t use them honestly. Building an illusion to tick boxes is all that is happening here. Plus, it’s to the detriment of the child and their class for them to be going to school when unwell – the school are driving the wrong behaviour for children feeling under the weather.

    Sorry rant over! Great post. #FamilyFun

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  6. The attendance target is set way too high in my opinion! Children get sick, and being amongst fellow students who as being young have a lower immune system; means they will also get sick and the germs spread.
    If you try to maintain the high attendance it means sending a sick child into school spreading lurgys around. My teacher friend was told if sick they need to stay off for 48 hours after the last time of said sickness. so if you have a 2 day bug that could mean 4 days off sick. That will definately affect attendance targets so really they need to find a definate structure and allow for kids to not be well. #familyfun

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  7. I couldn’t agree with you more! Our daughter starts school in September so I don’t personal experience of this yet. However we did the usual school tours and we discovered that a school we thought we would love actually made a competition out of everything! Literally everything! There is a weekly prize for the student in each year that tidies their lunch tray the best everyday! This is a school that notoriously specialises in SEN children. How is it fair? Why should that be a competition? Surely children should be encouraged to do it properly anyway and not penalised because they can’t?!
    Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Totally agree with you.

    My younger son has disabilities and health problems. His attendance at school was always less than 50% of the agreed 3 days which he was registered to attend. They accepted that he was not well enough to attend full time. They did a class award where the class with the best attendance won “attendance ted” which was a bear which then joined their class for the week. My son’s class only won it once during the first year and that was a week where they only started back on a Thursday (not one of my son’s scheduled days) and he was up to attending the Friday. I asked them not to include him for the class attendance as it seemed unfair to penalise the class for having a child with disabilities and known long term health problems but they wouldn’t. Yet they had no difficulties in excluding him from class outings!

    Thankfully, we home educate now so are free from the misery! #KCACOLS

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    1. That is very unfair that they couldn’t accommodate your request not to count him in the attendance. It’s obvs not his or your fault. I’ve yet to speak to someone who thinks these attendance prizes are a great idea!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I totally agree with you. I just know the holiday thing is going to be a massive issue for our household and I can’t see my children getting the trophy, not until they are sitting their GCSES anyway. You’re right it totally penalises those who are absent through no fault of their own and for reasons often beyond their control. Like you say though, I think it is largely revolves around the Ofsted rating, unfortunately. Thanks for joining us at #familyfun

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I totally agree. Rewarding attendance doesn’t get to the root the problems that kids with poor attendance might have. Plus my attendance at one secondary school was pretty good but I spent most of the time in the sick room and not in classes. #kcacols

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This sort of thing really bothers me. It bothered me when I worked in an office that you were monitored and penalised for taking time off sick (would they honestly rather have people coming in and infecting the whole office?) and it bothers me even more that this pressure is being put on our children. Surely when they’re ill, the best place for them to be is at home. x #KCACOLS

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My Sons school do this and although I agree with what you are saying – I can also remember his little face at the end of last term when he came out holding his 100% attendance certificate. He was very pleased with himself! I don’t think rewarding attendance has any affect on the kids whose attendance is poor for the reasons the school is trying to discourage. A piece of paper or a trophy isn’t really going to have much of an impact on them or their parents #eatsleepblogrt

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I completely agree! They really need to think up a far better scheme for attendance and realise they some time children just need a break! I hate it when people just can’t be arsed to get up early so a child misses school from that way or they fancy a shopping g trip, but if a child is over tired or sick then there really needs to be more leniency! #KCACOLS

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  14. Oh my, have to comment on this. I’m the attendance coordinator at my school…I’m responsible for those assemblies, that certificate, letters home and everything you hate. (And every parent who commented) due to budget cuts the EWO service is axed in most areas and social services no longer work with schools if trauancy is the only factor. There are some things schools can do to make it fairer – but with attendance linked so closely to successful results I can’t see it changing… don’t hate me – we don’t have a trophy.

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    1. I tried not to be too rude about school itself because I realise they are often doing the best they can to do what is required of them. I do think the larger problem is with the strict attendance rules set by the government and their corresponding lack of support for meaningful measures to improve attendance. Also, while I can understand in the run up to GCSEs that attendance can be very important, is it actually equally important at infant school level? In some countries, children don’t even go to school until they’re 7. I definitely don’t hate you btw! I enjoy a healthy debate 🙂

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      1. Haha agree. I didn’t find you rude either. Homework is proven to be a waste of time in primary, only reading is valid. I guess encouraging positive attributes however starts from day dot. All my low attendees also had low attendance in primary so there is a connection, we take our medical attendees out and set them personal targets that also come with rewards. It’s a mind field and when I stopped rewarding so many parents complained. I’d love to hear what parents would like.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. This has definitely been around for 20+ years because I remember being awarded 100% a couple of years. They were long years!! There is definitely something to be said about this though isn’t there. Not everyone can be healthy all year can they!! ‪Thank you for linking up to the #familyfunlinky‬

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I totally agree with this. My daughter has just started senior school and there is a lot of pressure to have good attendance. Her attendance percentage went down as she had to have a morning off school while I took her to the fracture clinic to have her broken ankle checked to see how it was healing! I showed the school the hospital letter but they say I should have arranged the appointment out of school. Yeah, great.

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  17. As a mum and a teacher I agree 100%. With young kids it is not their fault it’s the parents and there are always going to be special circumstances. In Holland we don’t have this system but there is a very very strict school attendance officer system and parents are sent letters after a number of absences or lates. In my experience lateness has been more of a problem. #EatSleepBlogRT 🌟

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Couldnt agree more! I stumbled upon your post after reading the latest ‘attendance reward’ school email – for my four year old and thinking ‘what new pointless b%#¥¥€x is this’?

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  19. Luck! That’s all attendance is down to. My daughter had two bad bouts of illness, and a number of eye appointments.
    Consequently she is below the threshold to get awarded for attendance (currently set at 98%).
    Her best friend will get an award despite having the same bug as my daughter, but was sent to school which is why my daughter caught it.

    Like

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