Why kids with disabilities should not miss out on school attendance rewards

When my son finished his first term of primary school he was glad to shrug off his uniform, put on a Christmas jumper and relax. But there was one part of school he wanted to continue playing at – the attendance awards ceremony.

He wore his older brother’s attendance award badge at home, to the playground, to visit friends. He played at being the Head Teacher handing out awards for the children to show their parents. But he didn’t get an award that term. And it turned out he probably wouldn’t get one in the future.

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So, whilst most pupils build up a collection of attendance badges on their bags or jackets, my son would be the kid in the playground being asked not only “Why are you wearing those things in your ears?” but also, “Why do you have different badges to everyone else?”

Finn has regular audiology and speech therapy appointments as a result of his hearing loss, which bring his attendance below 100%. I asked the school whether Finn could get an award if his only absence was for essential medical appointments. I was told that it would not be possible: they could not review the reasons for absence of every child, but they could recognise Finn’s efforts by giving him a special badge instead.

So, whilst most pupils build up a collection of attendance badges on their bags or jackets, my son would be the kid in the playground being asked not only “Why are you wearing those things in your ears?” but also, “Why do you have different badges to everyone else?”

It’s very clear that schools shouldn’t be doing this. It is both unlawful under the Equality Act and it is harmful. A system which excludes disabled kids from getting rewards not only unfairly upsets a child each time it happens, but also risks demotivating disabled kids in the longer term, making them less interested in school, potentially with knock on consequences for how well they do and how they feel about themselves.

After reading up on the Equality Act I challenged the school’s policy for a second time. This time the school agreed to change their approach. It may seem like a small thing: a badge, a certificate and a handshake from the Head. But I’m sure it will make a big impression on my son.

At the end of this, I’m left with a few questions:

  • Why is this happening – is it because schools don’t have the capacity to think through how to apply the Equality Act or is it a conscious decision to prioritise increasing attendance?
  • Can Ofsted ensure that they don’t set up the wrong culture and incentives in the way they inspect attendance figures?
  • Can the Department for Education commit to providing clear and consistent guidance to schools on this? It is not enough to say that it is a matter for schools – without clear guidance schools will continue to discriminate against disabled children. You can see the current guidance on the Government’s website.
  • Ofsted are currently consulting on how they carry out inspections. Can they start to ask schools how they reward attendance without discriminating against disabled children? This could be included in their new inspection framework and in the training inspectors receive on how to assess equality, diversity and inclusion.

When challenging a school, there are three useful points to make: that it’s unlawful, it’s unfair, and should be easy to solve.

By Charlotte Green, a parent of three from London – read a longer version of this article on Special Needs Jungle.

If you’re interested in letting Ofsted know what you think of their proposed new inspection framework and how they treat attendance rewards for children with SEND, then take part in their online consultation now. The deadline for responses is 11:45pm on Tuesday 5 April 2019.

Names in this blog post have been changed to preserve anonymity.

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