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.