School attendance – a new perspective

I’ve always been a big believer in school attendance. I don’t believe in kids staying off school for colds or coughs. At primary school, when kids got 100% attendance certificates, my kids were often among them, and I always felt very proud of them. But recently I’ve had a bit of a change of heart.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve come to trust my kids. I know they like school, so if they say they’re not well enough to go, I have to believe them. They may not have a temperature and they may not have been sick, but they are old enough to know their own minds and I need to trust them on that.

But my husband doesn’t always agree. He feels that my younger son in particular is too quick to claim he can’t go to school and I’m too quick to give in to him.

A few weeks ago, my son did a D of E walk with snow on the ground and sleet falling. He got soaked to the  skin and was very, very cold. He literally didn’t warm up all day. I was actually starting to feel quite worried about him. So when he told me the next morning he couldn’t go to school, I let him off.

Then a few days later, I started to question myself. Was I too soft? Was he skiving? Should he have gone in?

The German exchange was full on – two very long days of travelling there and back, with eight very busy days in between with lots of early mornings. When my son got home, he was exhausted. And he wasn’t the only one, the whole group was.

But he had to go to school the next day.

Yes, it had been an educational visit, but he’d still had a week away from school. And there was that day he’d missed the other week when he’d got cold…

So at 7am on his first day back, I tried to get him up. It always takes a while to wake him. But it was taking longer than usual. So I got my husband to try. That didn’t work. It was getting late. School wasn’t optional. He had to get up. When it got to 7.30 and he was in tears, I realised I was fighting a losing battle. He needed to stay in bed for at least some of the day.

Then I ran into a friend whose own son was also in bed after the German trip. And she made me realise that none of it was wrong – staying in bed after the German trip or the D of E walk. As well as being a parent of older teenagers, she is also a doctor, so I trust her judgement on this.

She says kids can’t work if they’re tired, so what’s the point in them being at school? It was a school trip that made them tired, they weren’t up all night on the Xbox. They’d already missed a week of work, so what difference would another two or three lessons make? It was more important for them to recharge their batteries and get their strength back after a very busy week.

She strongly disagrees with the whole rewarding 100% attendance thing (the thing I was so proud of as a naive mum of two little primary school boys). Schools have attendance targets of around 96 or 97%, so it’s OK for my kid, her kid and anyone else’s kids to have attendance in that region.

This year, my son has missed three and a half days of school. He hasn’t actually been ‘ill’ at all – all of these days off have been due to things that have happened through school extra-curricular activities – a broken nose, the D of E walk and the German exchange. He throws himself into everything to do with school and gives his all.

If giving his all means that he needs the occasional day off school afterwards, I now realise that’s OK. I’m very grateful to my friend for giving me a new perspective on this.

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. My kids were always the ones up the front getting the award for 100% attendance and it did sometimes make me feel like a bad mum forcing them to school regardless! The truth is, my kids are very fortunate, they have really good health and that’s the only reason why they get that get the award every year. It doesn’t feel right to make the children who have a long term illness or those who sadly get sick a lot, feel bad. I think your friend is right and you too did the right thing. Xx

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    • Thanks very much! My kids were always lucky with their health too, I would never have made them go in if they were actually ill. The certificates definitely are unfair on kids with long term conditions. x

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  2. I agree with your friend Sarah and I always have. Mine have rarely had 100 % attendance. Some children suffer from ill health more than others and I think it is wrong to make these children feel that they are inadequate by drawing attention to it in assemblies etc. Some children are more prone to infections (e.g. tonsillitis) than others and some children have chronic health conditions such as diabetes. I completely understand that attendance is important but so are many other things such as behaviour, effort and engagement when they are in school. I ‘d rather see certificates for this because it is something that a child can actually control.

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    • My kids have been very lucky not to have long term conditions, or to be the kids that are prone to illness. To be fair, our schools have always celebrated the other stuff too, so they didn’t just give the attendance certificates.

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  3. Our school just send termly letters home with their record sheet. N’s always been over the 97% although this year so far he’s had 4 days off. 2 were with a really bad rash. The dr said it was just viral, and N was pretty much fine in himself, but it was making him feel really self conscious. He also had a second Drs appointment on the second day and had said there was no way he was taking part in class assembly and standing on stage with a face with his rash. I decided he could stay home (although I made him do some worksheets). I’m all for kids going into school – I had a week of with nearly flu in the whole of secondary school, and N will go in unless he’s a temperature/off, or been sick which is rare. I was horrified to think he’d had 4 days off already in 1 school year (not because of the attendance record but just that was a lot of being off in general for him). But his old teacher then mentioned to me how surprised they were to not see N in class, as he was always in. So maybe most kids are off more often and 4 days is nothing.

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    • I think four days probably is nothing for a lot of kids, especially at N’s age. I’m hoping my son won’t need any more days off this year, but if it happens, it happens! It’s good that your school doesn’t make attendance a big deal publicly.

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  4. My youngest was coming down with a cold last week and on Friday had fallen asleep at her desk on her work so was sent home on Friday and on Monday she still wasn’t her self and was exhausted so I let her stay off. She slept most of the day so obviously needed it. She wasn’t really ill but did need a day off school.
    My girls rarely get 100% attendance. They always have check ups on their hearts and my youngest has hearing tests due to hear deafness and my teen had the odd morning off when she had her braces due to needing them tightening. It always made me so angry at the end of the school year where the certificates were handed out and because of disabilities my girls were penalised. They have now changed the rules at my girls schools. Medical appointments are not included in the attendance scoring.

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    • I can understand you feeling angry about the attendance certificates. It’s good that they’ve changed the rules now. It sounds like your girl definitely needed that day off on Monday! That’s how my younger son is when he’s ill – he just sleeps and sleeps!

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  5. I’ve been there too. After school trips abroad, when you pick them up at 1 or 2 am, the school still expects them back in school a few hours later. So far, my eldest has made it in each time. It is tough on them. I think I’m getting softer though. In primary, it would take something major for me to keep them off school. At secondary, we’ve had a few sick days and a couple of later starts. No, they won’t get full attendance, but I’m trusting their judgement more. After all, they will be making the decision for themselves soon enough, so where better to practise and feel the consequence.

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    • That’s exactly my view! My kids are old enough now to know whether they can go into school and I trust them to make that decision. To be fair to my son’s school they didn’t expect them in after the trip – and they’d actually got back at 8pm! They’d had a very long day of travelling though and a lot of long days and early starts for the full 10 days they were away.

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  6. Hi Sarah, it is a tricky one, but I’m a believer that it’s okay to stay off school when needed, especially when children are coming down with something, it’s better to nip an illness in the bud than to go spreading it and ending up having more time off recovering. In Greece there is a black mark system, so for every lesson missed they get a black mark and when they reach a certain amount they get held back a year, the higher their average grade the more black marks they get. We have to trust our children to make the right decision, but we also have to know when they are pulling a fast one. Not easy!


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    • Wow, that’s serious to be held back a year, that’s a definite deterrent to missing too much school! You’re right that we do have to trust our kids on this and I agree that sometimes it’s better to have a day off rather than struggle into school and end up making yourself more ill and needing more days off!

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  7. You’re right, I think we all put too much store by being at school and it’s never until the illness makes its way to you that you realise how ill they were! I agree with you about tiredness if it’s due to something they’ve done at school as well, there’s no need to force them to go in.

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    • I’m very lucky in that the illnesses never make their way to me, so I just have to trust my kids! It’s good that the school said that they were allowed time off when they got back from Germany. x

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