Exclude days lost to illness from school attendance targets

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Schools are required to produce pupil attendance figures, and these are then used by Ofsted as one indicator of a school’s performance, with low attendance rates allegedly pointing to an under-performing school. Many schools aim to boost pupil attendance by operating reward-based schemes, which commend pupils who have achieved 100% attendance throughout the year. These schemes also effectively penalise those pupils whose attendance, for whatever reason, has been below target.

However, the only way a pupil can achieve 100% attendance is by being lucky enough not to fall ill that year, or by struggling into school despite illness, putting their own health, and potentially the health of fellow pupils and staff, at risk. These are not things that we believe should be rewarded.

Similarly, if a pupil has not achieved 100% attendance, it can mean that they have been unlucky enough to fall ill, but, once ill, have acted responsibly for their own health, and that of others, by staying away from school until they are better. These are not things that we believe children should be punished for. 

We call on the government to exclude days lost to illness from school attendance figures and targets, and we call on schools to end the practice of rewarding children for good health, and punishing children for illness. As a society, we should be teaching our children that reward comes from hard work, not luck, and educating them on the importance of caring for their own health and the health of others.

Dr C Harvey

NHS Consultant and mother to two young children.