I was all for writing a lighthearted blog this week with a quick fool in it. After all, the sun is shinging, the tank is clean…
Unfortunately, I was also sent this article over the weekend and my heart just hurts.
I know that school attendance is important, and there is clear evidence of a correlation between good attendance and higher levels of achievement. Encouraging good attendance is never a bad thing. But using food and public shaming as a punishment can’t possibly be seen as an acceptable method to deploy… anywhere, let alone a school.
For those that haven’t read the article about Immanuel College in Birmingham in full, in summary each student is awarded two badges at the start of the term – one for attendance and one for behaviour. Those without 100% attendance lose their badge, those who misbehave lose their other badge. When joining the queue for lunch, those with two badges go first, followed by the “one badges”, with those without badges going last.
After working in education for over a decade, and with young people for over twenty years, I am acutely aware of the unique and individual issues that any number of children face with attendance and behaviour. There is no way I could tackle the intricacies of these in a single blog (or even a whole book), but to just skim the surface…
The following issues may cause a drop in attendance:
- A virus
- Obeying the 48 hour vomiting rule
- Injury (sports or otherwise)
- Medical appointments
- Mental health
- A family funeral
Of course, there are students who may stay off school for illnesses where they could be ok to be in school, and yes there are students who truant. However, combining the student who had emergency surgery with the student who sauntered off at lunchtime & didn’t return is just plain wrong at best, and at worst dips into disability discrimination.
My other concern here is the risk that parents will begin to ignore the rules on contagious periods. As someone with a compromised immune system, contact with a child with flu is a nightmare (and one of the reasons I changed my role), but with these rules I wholly understand why a parent would feel under pressure to send them in.
Finally, let’s turn to the behaviour badge. Whilst the attendance badge irked me, this badge made me sadder for our education system than I have been for a long time.
Put yourself in the position of the child for a moment: Home is perhaps unstable, you have caring responsibilities and you’re tired, or your anxiety is at an all time high, so because you’re a teenager who is still wrangling your hormones you verbally lash out. Instead of a teacher stepping in and acting like the adult that you need and talking you through what’s going on, you lose your behaviour badge. For the rest of the term you are visibly less than the others around you. How’s that anger issue going?
Kids with poor behaviour do not deserve to be stigmatised by the adults who are meant to be supporting them and encouraging them to take an alternative path. Yes, they are hard work. Yes, there needs to be consequences for poor behaviour. But consequences shouldn’t be making a child feel that they are less worthy than others.
As educators, we need to do better.