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End discrimination against children who attend essential appointments

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To The Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equality, and Andy Mellor, NAHT Vice President

 I am writing to you to ask that you reconsider the current policy of rewarding children for 100% attendance. While I appreciate the sentiment behind this policy, I feel it is discriminatory. Please allow me to explain.

I am the mother of 9 year old twins, Emily and Ben. Emily and Ben both adore going to school, and this is reflected in their academic record – in recent assessments both children proved to have a reading age of 12 ¾ years, 3 years above their chronological age. Ben is in the top set for Maths, and frequently astounds his teachers with his interest in and retention of facts from non-fiction books. Emily is consistently described as a “joy to teach”, “a credit to the class” and is often appointed to look after new students because of her kind and sensible nature. I am, naturally, very proud of my children and it saddens me that they will never, through no fault of their own, achieve 100% attendance.

Emily and Ben both have Phenylketonuria (PKU) – this is a metabolic condition which essentially means their bodies cannot break down the amino acid phenylalanine (phe). If high levels of phe build up in their system, the twins would suffer brain damage resulting in learning difficulties, sensory difficulties and seizures. At the moment the only treatment available is rigorous dietary control of protein intake, daily taking of supplements and frequent blood tests. Emily and Ben are amazing – they rarely complain about the fact that their food is so different from that of their peers, and they even cope with the fortnightly blood tests which are required to ensure their phe levels are within the prescribed limits.

Given that my children cope so admirably with this disability on a day to day basis, it saddens me that they will always miss out in the rewards, parties and prizes given to children who achieve 100% attendance. As part of their treatment the twins have to attend quarterly appointments at the specialist metabolic clinic at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. These clinics do not run at weekends, and travelling from Blackpool to Manchester, waiting in a clinic and then travelling back means they often miss a whole day of school. Attendance at these clinics is essential to ensure that the children stay well, and that their dietary control is monitored, and yet they are “punished” because they miss out on the 100% attendance certificates and parties that other children are awarded with. My children do not have a choice, they have to attend these clinics and so making them miss out on a treat seems, at best, unfair and at worst, discriminatory.  The children are very aware that they miss out on these treats.

Since I have raised this issue I have met many parents who are also concerned about the "100% attendance" policy and reward scheme implemented by most schools.  Many of these parents have children who have additional needs or long-term medical issues.  These parents are doing the best they can for their children – they take them to Speech Therapy appointments, or consultant appointments, or Physiotherapy appointments – none of which are offered outside of school time, and all of which are essential for a child’s growth and development.

As well as a mother, I am a Senior Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, with 17 years of experience. Until recently I worked for the NHS.  As a professional from the NHS I am aware that there is simply not enough time in the working week to see everyone outside of school hours, and yet those children who attend these essential appointments in school time are unfairly penalised. Again, this seems discriminatory.  

Surely we should be encouraging schools and their pupils to value achievements, effort and everyone's well-being over "just being there all the time".  Many parents report being encouraged to send children to school ill, thus increasing the risk to others - especially those children who may have lowered immunity.  

I would ask that:

* The attendance policy is revised so that children who attend essential appointments within school hours are not penalised, or made to feel any more different from their peers. It would be easy for parents to provide evidence that their child is indeed attending a hospital or therapy appointment with a letter, appointment card or text message and if these were discounted from the child’s overall attendance it would allow children and their parents to attend essential appointments without fear of being penalised.

* The antiquated idea of "100% attendance" is reviewed - instead, a more modern and inclusive policy of rewarding achievements, effort and behaviour is considered.  

I look forward to hearing your reply on this matter.
Yours sincerely,

Corrina Lunn

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