This is one of those posts that could be seen as slightly controversial but I’ll say it anyway. Lately on twitter I’ve been reading lots of tweets and threads from people who are very upset about giving attendance awards to children at the end of the year. The main reason cited is that it’s unfair to children who have medical problems and will never be able to win this award. Well as harsh as it sounds, life is actually very unfair. It’s a lesson we have to learn in life. We can’t remove the reward for all children because some can’t participate.

I am an Assistant Head at a special school in Blackpool and many of our cohort are profoundly poorly. Every day brings major challenges for our children. For some staying alive is the challenge they face on a daily basis. They are that poorly. I’m talking about children who are oxygen dependent, some who suffer from short bowel disease and many who are dependent on adults for their every need. Yet at our school we still have an attendance award to encourage the children to come to school. Let me explain.

Many of our children have to live their lives in very poor health. They can’t turn it off for a day, or have a day off from being unwell, there is nothing they can do about it, it’s the reality of their lives, sad as that is. They just have to accept it and get on with it. With that in mind we encourage the children to face each new day with a smile on their faces and to come to school if they can possibly make it. Why? We do it because it’s good for their mental health to be around others rather than being at home and becoming anxious, depressed and potentially lonely. Everyone feels better when they are in a routine and our very poorly, special children are no different in that respect.

Our reasoning is that we get them all in (unless it’s a sickness bug) teach them and help them to battle through the pain and come out the other side with a smile on their faces. If we let them stay at home we aren’t doing them any favours at all and may even be contributing to their illness.

I accept that the people who are tweeting against the idea of attendance awards are talking about comparing children with SEND against able bodied children. However, it’s wrong to deny all children the chance of a prize because some can’t compete. The answer is to move the goalposts for the children who are poorly. At our school we personalise their attendance target thus giving each child a chance to win an award. For example, a child who has been in hospital and then recovering at home might have a target for the year of 65%. For that child that target will be challenging enough for them and may see them win an attendance award. For able bodied children the target is obviously 100% or as close to it as you can be.

This seems like common sense to me and works well for our school. Apart from anything else children with special needs do not want to be treated any differently from other children. They want to win awards too and they don’t want to deny others the chance to be award winners. So, controversial as it may seem I am in favour of the attendance awards, with a little tweaking.

Thank you for reading.