VIRAL Blog post from July 2016 seen by over 4 million people and still creating waves.

Four reasons my son won’t accept his 100% Attendance Award.

No. 2 son has been awarded an evening at a soft play centre because he has 100% attendance at school. He loves going to soft play, he loves going out with his friends, we love it when school reward him BUT he won’t be going. Here’s why…

1) We don’t reward luck.

In this family we will think of as many reasons possible to praise our children. We will celebrate and reward them, but being lucky enough not to get sick is not one of them. He’s lucky to have not developed a fever, had an accident or live with a chronic illness.

2) 100% Attendance Awards exclude the weakest.

In this family you are not shamed for ill health, vulnerability or weakness. In this house you are not encouraged to spread germs when you are unwell. In this house we look after ourselves and the weakest amongst us.

Can you imagine a work place that at the end of each week marked out all the people who hadn’t been sick? (I know it happens) Where all the departments with the least number of people off were rewarded – in front of everyone else? It happens in schools all the time. Take a moment to think about the kind of atmosphere this creates. Is it fostering community, commitment and pride? Or division, isolation and the vilification of the vulnerable? What impact does it have on people who had days off because of bereavement, mental health problem or chronic conditions?

What are we teaching our kids about value and worth?

What are we teaching them about looking out for each other and looking after the sick or disabled in our community?

3) He had no control over his 100% attendance.

In this family you don’t take praise for something you didn’t do. He had no control over his attendance. I took him to school and it would have been my decision to keep him off. I should get the reward (or not) for his attendance.

4) We are taking him out of school for 5 days at the end of term.

In this family we value school and work but we also know the importance of making memories and having rest. So our son will finish his school year one week early and go to Italy instead of class parties, watching films and playing end of year games (with permission from school).*

As much as I understand the importance of attendance, there must be a better way of helping those families and children who don’t go to school for non-genuine reasons.
The messages we are sending to our kids when we reward attendance is wrong for so many reasons – there has to be a better way.

But most importantly these kinds of rewards are not fit for purpose.

They don’t support struggling families. They aren’t going to persuade a parent (or child that its worth skipping that term-time trip to Disney. Attendance rewards are so much more toxic then helpful. If we can’t get this right, what hope do we have of seeing a change in our public policy which supports the disabled rather than isolating them.

There are many creative ways schools can tackle non-genuine absence without penalising the sick.

*We are going on holiday without our eldest son who is severely disabled. As a result we need to go during school term as we cannot expect anyone to care for him 24hours a day. As it is, a complex package of support from family, hospice, paid carers and school will mean the holiday takes place. He will have a blast, be spoilt rotten and much prefer staying home with his routine. It isn’t how we imagine a family holiday but it is sadly what is needed for us. Loving a child with a life-limiting condition means we know how life is short – we all only get one chance to live it well.

Original post July 2017.

Since the post went viral, I have appeared on Radio 2 Jeremy Vine show, BBC local radio, national and international newspapers and blogs.

At the heart of my disdain for 100% attendance awards is their underlying toxic message that strong is good, healthy is best, sickness and fragility should be avoided, minimalised and marginalised. I want to be part of a society which is #bridgingthegap between those with disabilities and their community based on value not pity.

Through my work as Founder of Born at the Right Time, I am #bridgingthegap for families of children with complex needs through training professionals in effective communication and co-production with relatives and carers.

EDIT 2020

Three years ago this blog touched a nerve.

At Born at the Right Time we are passionate about bridging gaps, valuing all people and sharing the often hidden lives of those with complex disabilities. Attendance awards are a seemingly insignificant measure which reflects the values and psychology of a society. If our educational establishments are teaching 5 year olds that health is valued above belonging, it is unsurprising our politicians are culpable and capable of (largely with the support of the population) deepening the margins around the most vulnerable. Meanwhile the weakest amongst us are vilified and isolated through the systematic under-financing and wilful negligence.
There are many more important injustices than 100% Attendance Awards, but the way we encourage or discourage school communities to value all people, support the vulnerable and take pride in diversity, has the capacity to reach wider and last longer than a generation.

Hi, thanks for dropping by. My name is Rachel a nurse, writer, speaker, trainer and mum living in Essex with my husband and three sons; one of whom has severe disabilities and life-limiting epilepsy.

As well as doing laundry and endlessly trying to tidy away toys, I blog here and won the 2018 BAPs award for ‘Blogger ‘Making a Difference’ whilst being a finalist in the ‘Practical advice for families’ category. In 2015, I published my memoir ‘The Skies I’m Under’. I think an enjoyable evening should include a good book and glass of gin. Occasionally, I force myself to go for a run in an attempt to counteract a love of salt and vinegar crisps dipped in hummus.

I speak at events, conferences and lead workshops with other parents like me. I’m passionate about training professionals who care for families like mine.