Tonight was our termly ACE awards – Academic and Character Excellence – it is a superb event to highlight how well some of the students are doing. Overall, I support and encourage these events and I encourage the children to always try their hardest and set their lives to their own code of character. They are helpful (we’ll ignore their home chores), polite, kind and caring, considerate and a pleasure to be around.
I am privileged to be raising fantastic human beings. They trust us, as parents, to meet their needs, they rely on us to take care of them when they’re poorly and stand up for them when there is an injustice.
That’s what I am doing now. We’ve had occasions when one or two of the children have managed to stay healthy the whole term long. That’s fantastic. It’s also potluck. They had absolutely no control over their immune systems, they just happened to miss the seasonal flu and the stomach virus which took the rest of us out. It isn’t part of their character not to be ill, it’s just luck.
I remember being a fairly healthy child and missing very little school. My elder sister had nearly the whole school year off after an accident at home broke her lower leg and put her in plastercast. She got a nasty infection, there were multiple attempts at repairing and reducing damage. She had all her class work brought in to the hospital and managed to learn what was needed to see her through the school year. My younger sister was born premature and it had a knock on effect on her health. Ear infections, Mumps (despite having all our MMR jabs – it happens), chest infections, asthma. It meant many appointments and many missed days at school.
This year hasn’t been The Boy’s month. He has been constantly “under the weather” since Christmas. Most days he gets on with it. He has a bit of a temperature, his throats a bit sore, and every now and again, he’ll vomit. Our school policy is 24 hours. He has missed one day a week all this term. This is really not what I want but rules are there to protect others and I would feel utterly guilty if my Boy’s bug made another child seriously unwell. Then you have the Big Boy. Numerous appointments with various services and they all operate on a 9:30-4:30 timetable. The Big Boy can’t control when he has to have his blockers or the fact that we have to go into Central London because our GP doesn’t support the treatment. He has very limited control over his mental health and a bad dip can creep up and take hold. He can’t just pull up his socks and keep going.
Essentially, my children won’t be winning the top notch award because you have to show academic progress, character excellence and, crucially, 100% attendance. It doesn’t matter that their teachers are super proud of their achievements. It won’t count if they have the most positive points in their year group. They could rescue ducklings, feed the homeless, and be the personal assistant their teachers always wanted. As soon as they catch that bug, their chances of gaining the best possible praise award is finished.
How is that fair? Our very own Teacher’s Pet was doing really well. She had made it through 5 out of 6 of the half terms and had nothing bigger than a sniffle. One Tuesday morning, the boy sitting next to her vomited next to their desk. His parents were called to collect him. They weren’t able to get back to school any sooner than the end of the school day so he was *sent back to class*. He spent the next 4hrs sat next to one of the most wonderful students you could wish to meet. Come Thursday morning, around 3am, my poor 11 year old was green and heart broken. She knew it would mean not going into school and her hopes of the 100% attendance award was gone. Oh yes, the poorly young boy from her class? He stayed at school all week despite having spent Tuesday and Wednesday running to the toilets. He got his 100% attendance award whilst our family got tears and a nasty bug that we didn’t shift for over a month.
Why do we continue to praise attendance so highly, even higher than a person being in good health? When my child is having a panic attack, their breathing becoming difficult, their face clammy, their head pounding, and their stomach churning, what learning are they going to done in a class with 25 other wonderful children and 2 cruel and unkind children who use bullying tactics to tear down my child’s defences? Why is my child’s mental health not worth protecting?
Do I want my child to be considered for the top spot *despite* missing a day or two from school? Yes, of course I do. I want them to be able to gain first place in any race. Am I going to send my ill child to school to keep them in the race? Nope. That accolade just isn’t worth it. Maybe, if my children were struggling academically or having problems finding their feet as a growing individual, I *might* consider making sure that we keep on top of things as parents; help them learn, explore, grow spiritually, emotionally, and mentally but I can’t see myself being the parent who leaves their child at school unless I truly don’t have any other choice.
Please, teachers, take the time to praise our children, we love that you do but try to do it without putting a special shiny star on the 100% attendance thing. For my physically disabled nephew, for my gender dysphoria suffering son, for my daughter who just has to listen to a sneeze before becoming unwell, for my elder sister and her accident, and my younger sister and her premature system, for all those children who are genuinely ill and whose parents have the facility to keep them home and wrapped up. For everyone who has missed out on that 100% attendance award. Your worth will never be valued, by me, by how well your immune system fights off bugs.