Attendance certificates often penalise children who have absolutely no control over whether they can attain the required standard, and perpetuate a gung-ho culture, argues Annette Jenkins.
I asked my daughter’s friend when she came round for tea what she’d done at school that day. The almost inevitable “Nothing much” was the reply!
With a little coaxing, however, she revealed that attendance certificates had been given out, but reported that she hadn’t received one.
What had prevented her attending, I asked. It seems her family had taken some extra holiday, so of course her attendance record had not been up to par.
Unnecessarily penalising children
Now most of the school children I know have little or no say about when their parents or carers choose to book their holidays, and many families need to take some of their holidays outside of usual school vacation periods to be able to afford one at all.
Likewise, children don’t have much input over when they fall ill, and have to remain at home or even in hospital, and therefore have no opportunity to win the dangled carrot. To lump a child who breaks a limb – or indeed has had to take time out for any other illness – with the kids who skive, is unnecessarily penalising them.
But the premise of attendance certificates, which is presumably that the more children go to school the more they will ‘achieve’, is questionable. (Others would go further, and suggest that the ‘reward culture’ of certificates, stickers and charts, and even positive reinforcement, is generally detrimental to development.)
Attendance certificate culture also perpetuates the gung-ho attitude that people should struggle in to school or work, no matter how terrible they’re feeling, dosed up to the eyeballs on Lemsip or other drugs and ready to knock out their peers by spreading their lurgy to all and sundry; how that might affect overall attendance isn’t widely mentioned.
One website reported that when a school sent a child home for looking ill, it then said she’d missed a day and couldn’t have her certificate! There are other extreme reports of children prevented from attending an awards disco with their peers because they’d had time off – because a parent had died.
The small proportion of people that this system is presumably designed to motivate – the malingerers, no-shows, runaways, shirkers, skivers and their families – probably couldn’t give a fig about Gold, Silver or even Bronze attendance certificates.
It’s true that in life not everyone can win every prize, but to create a system of prizes that many children have no hope of winning through no fault of their own seems particularly pernicious.