We’re sat in the outpatient ward of the children’s hospital. Fortunately for us, the reason we are here is not too serious (although it does mean fairly frequent days out of school). This time round, there has been an administrative error. Some paperwork was misplaced at the start of the day. And because of this, there is a two and a half hour delay before our consultant can see us. In that time, a series of children wait alongside us, some who clearly have complex medical problems. Most of them are in their school uniforms. And as I while away those two and a half hours I start to think, really think, about what it means when schools reward 100% attendance.
One little girl arrives who has obviously spent a lot of time in the children’s hospital. Several nurses pop out to say hello, and how is she doing, and how lovely it is to see her again. There are lots of smiles and hugs. But that little girl will not get 100% attendance. An older boy arrives, pushed in a wheelchair by his mum. She helps him out of his chair, into a seat, and he leans against her as he waits to be seen, clearly in pain. His mum comforts him gently. But that older boy will not get 100% attendance. Another little boy arrives, this one in baggy clothes. From the conversations that ensue it becomes clear that he is recovering from an operation. Clearly, that little boy will not get 100% attendance.
After 150 minutes of this, I am left with a stark conclusion. An expectation of 100% attendance is, frankly, discriminatory. Giving rewards for 100% attendance is, not to put too fine a point on it, plain wrong. And the worst of it is, that we are discriminating against children who are in an awful position to start with. None of these children are here by choice. Their absence from school is entirely unavoidable. And life has given them pain enough already, without us adding to the toll.