Tales from the Head's Office #4
Having retired as a primary head teacher & following the suggestion of my dear friend Paula this post is part of an occasional series about the highs & lows of my headship career. It spanned 13 years & included 3 schools. I hope you enjoy my tales!
I was a bit naughty with my Gallery post the other day when I went AWOL for a few days. I posted this but it got me thinking about a bête noir of mine (even though I’m no longer a head). It is children’s attendance at school.
Children are expected to attend school for 190 days a year. This is 380 sessions because schools have to take a register at the beginning of the morning & the afternoon sessions. Most schools will run an award system to encourage attendance. This may be in the form of stickers or certificates & will often include a challenge for classes. Many Friday assemblies will have a slot devoted to praising good attendance & this often leads to termly then annual rewards. I once had a pupil who had full attendance for 4 years!
A great deal of time, effort & money goes into this element of schooling. The educational welfare service is one of the most over-stretched teams that work with schools. The government has got in on the act over the years & schools now have targets for their attendance which are regularly monitored & are part of Ofsted inspections.
Now why is this you may ask? Many of you are really up with things & know how important regular attendance is to children of school age. Apart from the ‘formal’ teacher delivered learning (if they aint there they caint learn!) there are heaps & heaps of experiences that they miss if they are not there every day – forming friendships, getting to know the routines & expectations, putting all the learning from home into practice, learning to socialise with others etc.
Unfortunately, there are parents who do not see the importance of these things. They will keep children out of school because it is their birthday, or they need to have a haircut, or need new shoes (I kid you not!). They will keep them away all day for a dental check. It is only when they are presented with the figures that some (you’ll never convince them all!) realise the damage that can be done.
For instance 80% in most areas of life would be considered good. 80% in a test would certainly be a pass. A child with 80% attendance however, has missed the equivalent of 7.6 weeks of learning! That’s over a term! Even those whose attendance is considered OK at 95% have missed 2 weeks. Now depending on where they are in the school year, two weeks does not seem too bad. However, if they are the first 2 weeks of the year, the child will miss out on all the important information of the new routines, new books, equipment. They will miss making new friends & getting into work groups. If they are away at the end of the year, they miss all the goodbyes & celebrations which, if it is their last year in that phase, are really important.
Many parents have assumed that they are entitled to take their children out of school for 10 days. This is not true. Schools may grant permission for absence & authorise it but only after carefully looking at the general pattern of attendance. For a child who has had a day off every week for most of the year, a request for 2 weeks to go on holiday would not be approved. Although the holiday may provide many excellent experiences, can it make up for missing a quarter (that’s over 9 weeks) of school?
Hopefully, schools are now working with parents explaining the procedures & supporting where they can. Fixed penalty notices (where parents can be fined or taken to court) are few & far between. Please talk to your school if your child is unable to attend or if you want to take them out during term time. Unauthorised absence is not something anyone wants as it can lead to real stress all round!
What sort of system does your child’s school have for dealing with attendance? Have you felt guilty about taking them out? What about holiday firms that offer cheap deals during school term time? Share your thoughts here!