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It’s the last day of term and I have been waking the kids up since Tuesday singing “Hold on for one more day” with full dance routine. Daughter one just turned over. Daughter two was ready to join in. Daughter one has been campaigning hard for not bothering with the last day of term at all, given it only lasts for about three hours, but we have also just received a rather scary missive from the school about absence rates.
They are raising the absence rate and warning of dire consequences ie your whole life will go down the toilet – if you don’t conform. But what if the school itself is making you sick? Daughter one has been off quite a bit this year with migraines which I believe are directly due to the stress-induced atmosphere at school. She doesn’t get them in the holidays. She has slipped below the previous absence threshold on occasion and we’ve had letters. Now the bar has been raised and they have stated that “headaches” don’t count. Daughter one has very severe migraines which completely zonk her out for hours afterwards. Luckily for the school, I work from home and can rearrange my day on occasion to get her in later after she has recovered, but we live in a village with no direct transport links to the school and it would take her half the day to get in otherwise.
The email from the school was entitled Changes to persistent absence threshold and PREVENT strategy and detailed government changes. It said: “Regular attendance at school is essential to ensure uninterrupted progress and to enable children to fulfil their potential. The attendance pattern for all children is monitored weekly with the school seeking to work actively with parents to ensure that regular attendance is maintained. The Department for Education has published data on their website that clearly shows the link between attendance and attainment. This highlights the fact that there will be an impact on your child’s education and exam results if attendance is not consistently above 95% throughout their schooling.”
The letter goes on to remind parents that they cannot take their children out of school for holidays and talks about the new PREVENT strategy which forms part of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 . Apparently this ” may mean that requests for periods of absence which involve extended stays abroad may lead the school to make further enquiries about the nature of the visit and the intended date of return to the UK ” . Since you already have to detail why you might want to take a child out of school and for how long, it is unclear what the follow-up questions might involve. How will they be able to tell that your trip to Spain to attend your mother-in-law’s funeral is not some huge bluff and that you are all intending to fly from Barcelona to Turkey and hike across the border into Syria? What precisely is the point of all of this, except to make everyone suspicious of everyone else, particularly Muslims, to make parents – particularly Muslim ones – feel their every move is being watched and that their children are all potential terrorists? Will those intending to travel to Asia or the Middle East be referred to the intelligence services? Will that sow a greater love of “British values”, the same British values that have involved us in everything from slavery to carpet bombing Iraq? I’m all for preventing terrorism and am only too aware of the horror meted out by Isis, but will politicising schools in this way actually work?
The letter ends with advice on watching your children’s social media activities and a rousing final paragraph: “We send home a letter and reports which detail your child ‘ s attendance throughout the year. We also remind you of the importance of punctuality, to enable your child to access their full entitlement to learning. We are confident that you will be keen to work with us to ensure that your child meets the new threshold requirements, since it is clear that this will have a positive effect on their learning.”
You will learn, or else. The problem with teachers is that they use teacher language on everyone and assume we need to be told to do the ‘right thing’ all the time. I know they are probably under a three-line whip from the government, with the threat of withdrawal of funding and the equivalent of long-term detention if they don’t comply, but there are ways of putting this stuff across which sound like they actually consider parents as equals who do usually want the best for their children, whatever that might be.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.