Should parents query school attendance policies?
Schools have their protocols to follow, but when letters regarding poor attendance get sent home making reference to using sickness as an excuse while you take an unauthorised term time holiday, I feel, disgusted. As a parent who follows the school rules, this catch all letter was quite insulting to receive. I received one of these letters, informing me that my just turned 5 year old child, had been absent too frequently, and that I must not use sickness as an excuse to go on holiday, or they would fine me. I felt quite insulted, as to be honest if I wanted to go on holiday during term time, I certainly wouldn’t lie about it as my children would excitedly babble the truth!
A week after receiving this catch all letter from school, I found myself trying to convince my obviously ill 5 year old to go to school, in fact we got dressed and went to school, only to come home again. I saw sense as I attempted to ignore his cough as we walked up to the school gate, I couldn’t ignore how pale he was and how he struggled to take a breath. I diverted us to the office to say he wouldn’t be in, I felt awful, as though I was lying. Actually, he ended up on anti-biotics and steroids, I ended up crying to the GP that the school say he’s had too many days off.. Yes, I actually cried about it, I felt embarrassed to be crying, but I was genuinely stressed about the situation. The GP kindly reminded me that ultimately if he’s ill, what can I do? I was reminded that his health is priority, and no child can learn if they are ill.
So, why have I written this post? I wrote on my personal facebook page about my frustation with “The system” and the response I got from parents who have had similar letters from different schools was amazing. While I understand the need for “the system” I also think a letter regarding attendance should not insinuate that a parent is doing anything wrong, surely it is more of a concern if a parent recurrently sends a sick child to school? Insinuating that parents are calling children in sick in order to go on holiday in the same letter which questions the number of sick days highlights a further problem, that some parents are prepared to go to the lengths of lying in order to avoid the school penalties which I’m not entirely sure should be allowed to be applied anyway. You see, there’s a grey area in the law. The law states “Children must attend school regularly” but it does not define “regularly”. But that’s another discussion.
Section 444 of the Education Act 1996, should be used to protect children, to ensure they are receiving an education. It shouldn’t be being used to effectively bully parents who care about their children, and are trying to make sure they are healthy! Section 444 actually states that authorities are supposed to provide support for children who are struggling due to missing time at school through ill health, they are if necessary supposed to arrange for a education welfare officer to assist the parents in helping to ensure their child is receiving education. Then why, I have to ask, is it so hard to convince the school to send any work home? It should also be noted that Section 444 only applies to children of compulsory school age – that’s the term after their 5th birthday, so doesn’t even apply to my youngest son at the moment, he’s a January baby so it will apply for the summer term for him.
Have schools become too attendance focused? Have we reached a stage where the law is being used to harrass innocent parents with threats of financial penalties or worse if they fail to insist their sick child attends school? Or are education authority right to enforce the legislation – they just safe guarding their students? Let me know your thoughts!