Thursday, 22 October 2015

Absence from school - a parent's perspective

You might remember that Tween sustained a significant head injury, with a brain bleed, on his school premises n May. He seemed to make a decent recovery so after two weeks, we sent him back to school. Unfortunately, we soon learned that he had Post Concussion Syndrome, which has a wide variety of symptoms. Tween's were: severe headache, sleep disruption, weakness in arms and legs, inability to concentrate for anything other than short periods.

His attendance in the summer term was erratic, and in the end, things got so bad that I chucked in work and kept him off school for the last three weeks of term. I kept the school informed with regular emails and phone calls, and they were supportive.

This term, he has picked up every bug under the sun, and has been off for a total of two weeks. The GP tells us that, after a brain injury, the immune system can be weakened. Again, the school were informed.

This week, however, I got a letter from Tween's school. It started like this:

I am writing to make you aware that D continues to have significant absence from school with no reason/s yet provided, and their attendance has now fallen below 80% on his individual attendance record. Consequently, D has now been placed onto Stage 3 of the school's Attendance Stage System. This is the stage were the school formally requests a meeting with the parents because their child's level of attendance had (sic) still not improved, or has subsequently deteriorated following Stage 2.


I need to remind you that under the Education Act 1996 it is the duty of parent(s) to ensure the regular attendance of their children at school...


I felt let down, and worse - I felt accused of failing my child. So after scatter-gunning the school with an outraged email, I said 'yes please' to the offer of a meeting- if only to find out how this could happen.

The meeting was ok. The school admitted that they had made a mistake and apologised. But they also said that, at times, the rules passed on to them by the Government puts them between a rock and a hard place. If attendance slips, they are obliged to send letters. If they do not, they could find themselves on the end of a lawsuit (and in fact had a lawyer phone yesterday claiming just that). Schools, and particularly academies, are finding themselves - as in the commercial world - laid bare to potential litigious claims every day. The Government are prosecuting parents who do not ensure that their child attends school, and so the school needs to make sure that they have followed the required process to the letter.

I left the meeting with an overwhelming sadness that a school's focus is no longer simply to teach students well. It is to manage, accuse, support, be afraid, tick boxes, understand Government rules, be flexible when the rules change, keep up. They need to choose carefully between stick and carrot - not just for the children, but for the parents too. And the consequences of choosing the wrong one could potentially be huge.

Good teachers - great teachers - are being sucked into this red tape nightmare and are losing touch with the reason they went into teaching. My boys are seeing less of these wonderful role models, because they are stuck behind a desk, talking to lawyers or Government officials, or filling in forms. And the administration goes on into the evening; whenever they call me, it's always past 6.30pm.

For goodness sakes. Something needs to be done. The whole system is cracking; four in ten teachers leave the profession within a year. Teachers do not have the status in society they once had; they are frequently portrayed as lazy and moaning. In my experience, as someone who works daily with teachers, it just isn't true. They frequently have little work/life balance. In theory, they have long holidays, but in practice, they work six-day weeks and have to deal with huge amounts of pressure. Michael Gove has fucked things up, and change needs to come. Quickly.

So, my little story about a letter that should never have been sent is just a cog in a machine that is rapidly spinning out of control. The school has learned that it can't handle every absence issue in the same way. I have learned that teachers are sorely stretched and at times, simply don't have the capacity to be thoughtful and supportive.

And meanwhile, Tween lies in bed, off school again today, because he can't feel his arms and legs.


  1. Aw. I feel like every day I read something else awful that this government has done/is planning to do/has already screwed up. I'm not saying that any government can please all of the people all of the time but it really feels like this one is failing the people - if it's not health, it's education, it's everything to do with the welfare state. It makes me feel really sad and a bit scared. I'm so sorry that the tween isn't having such a great time health wise either. I hope it isn't a long term thing for both your sakes. X

    1. Thanks Sam! I've been thinking some more about this issue. One of the saddest things about it is that it's driving a huge wedge between parents and teachers. These people should be supporting each other in the education of their children, rather than being forced to put each other under pressure. The whole thing is nuts!

  2. A sorry Lottie. That sucks.

  3. Lottie, you're clearly an excellent mum of Tween, someone who understands the pressure we teachers are under. It is total madness, with few outside of education understanding. I always say that if the truth were widely known people would be marching on Parliament with flaming torches... Alas, the secret shame of how our education system has been twisted and distorted by politicians, genuinely more keen on votes than the true effects of their vandalism, remains a secret... and they continue to get elected (sigh).
    You keep being a great mum, we'll keep trying to teach well, and hopefully we'll both be able to make a positive difference. Super website, too!


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