The problem with end-of-term school attendance and behaviour awards – Sarah Ockwell-Smith

The problem with end-of-term school attendance and behaviour awards – Sarah Ockwell-Smith

As I write, it is the end of the school year in England. Last week, hundreds of schools celebrated the most priviledged of their students. Those priviledged include children who are fortunate enough to have good health, a two-parent family or a single-parent family with lots of local support, a family lucky enough to not live in poverty, a parent with good physical and mental health and children with special educational needs and disabilities. Children lucky enough to tick all of these boxes were treated with special parties, ice creams, certificates, stickers, sweets and other rewards celebrating their ‘good behaviour’ and ‘good attendance’. Not so fortunate children were left to experience yet another day of disappointment, stress and estrangement from their peers.

While pressure mounts on schools to increase pupil attendance, largely due to significantly lower attendance figures since the Covid pandemic (school absence sat at around 4.1% pre Covid and now hovers at around 7.8%), school leadership are forced to consider creative ways to increase pupil attendance. Alongside numerous rewards and treats to reward 100% (or just below) attendance, many schools are recruiting school attendance officers, who are tasked with visiting homes when pupils do not attend school. At first glance, this may seem a sensible idea, but it will only see the same children and their families disengage with the school system even more.

The questions that need to be, urgently, asked are:

  • Why do some children struggle to attend school regularly?
  • What problems are families facing that are preventing parents from getting their children to school?
  • What SEND are either undiagnosed or unsupported at school?
  • What mental health difficulties are children struggling with that are not being adequately diagnosed and treated?
  • What happened during the Covid pandemic for so many children to struggle with the return to school?
  • Is school really the right place for all children?

Until these questions are genuinely asked – and importantly answered, with appropriate plans to help put in place – any attempt to reward (and punish by lack of reward) attendance only harms children (and their families) who are already struggling even more.

Then there are the children who have health conditions necessitating time off school regularly. Is it fair that they miss out on these awards? There is a worrying Ableist undercurrent in our education system currently, rewarding children for good health and punishing those who have been less fortunate in the health and genetics lottery. What sort of message does this indoctrinate in children for the years ahead?

The same is true of children who struggle with difficult behaviour at school. Rewarding those children who are compliant and ‘good’ is naive and damaging. Children who struggle at schools who are (usually through no fault of their own) ill-equipped to deal with SEND and mental health difficulties arising from the Covid pandemic and parenting affected by living in poverty, are repeatedly punished for their lack of ability to fit into a round-hole system as a square peg. Excluding these children from end-of-term celebrations is wicked. It is no coincidence that the same children are punished and excluded from their peers time and time again in a misguided attempt to control their behaviour, ending their year on an ultimate low, while their peers celebrate, does nothing to help them or change their behaviour, but it may just make things worse.

None of this is the fault of teachers, who work far too many hours for the insultingly low pay they receive. Teaching staff are as much victims of the system as children. Any ire here is not aimed at them, but those who run the systems and hold the purse strings. Our current education system is failing both children and teachers. It is highly childist, discriminating against all children, but especially those who are being most chronically let down by our society currently. There is a desperate need for change. Ultimately that change needs to be systemic, but until the whole-system change happens, please can we stop with the damaging, childist and ableist end-of-term attendance and behaviour awards and celebrations?

If this piece spoke to you, then you’re exactly who I wrote my new book ‘Because I Said So! Why Society is childist and how breaking the cycle of discrimination towards children can change the world’ for – it’s out in a month’s time and you can preo-order a copy HERE.

The Corwin Getaway Is One That Got Away Previous post The Corwin Getaway Is One That Got Away
Chennai Lions vs Goa Challengers preview, prediction, head-to-head & live streaming details Next post Chennai Lions vs Goa Challengers preview, prediction, head-to-head & live streaming details