The School Years

Stop Praising My Kid For Just Showing Up

Last week Finley came home with a letter from his school proclaiming and congratulating him (or us I suppose) on his 98.6% attendance rate last term. It was a long fucking letter to be honest, a whole A4 sheet about the importance of coming to school, not being late bla bla bla. It also provided me with an idiots guide on what illnesses constitute a valid sick day. I’m not convinced an entire paragraph on this was necessary, it’s pretty simple in my book –

  • If they’ve got the shits keep them at home, for their own sake and everyone elses
  • If they’ve got a cold, squirt some Calpol down their neck and send them on their merry way


Needless to say, I can’t be arsed with letters like this, I threw it straight in the bin and didn’t even mention it to him (he can’t read it himself). It is not an achievement of my sons that he managed to go to school 98.6% of the time last term. Neither is it an achievement of mine. He hasn’t worked hard at this, we haven’t earnt a pat on the back. He’s not chronically ill, he has a support network, no one died – he should be at school. School is not an option. School is what we do.

School is not an option. School is what we do.

His score of 98.6% falls within the good attendance category. He had one day off last term, the day after Niamh was born. Both me and Adam were in hospital and Finley was staying a few days with his Grandparents who are not local and were driving forty minutes every morning to get him to school on time. It coincided with him being genuinely ill and it was best for everyone involved that he stayed home with them that day (confirmed by afore mentioned idiots guide on illness).

He’s also never been late, but I don’t consider that an accomplishment. Even when I was two and a half weeks post C-section, Adam had gone back to work and I was hobbling down the road with what was the equivalent of an adult nappy stuffed between my legs, convinced that my guts were about to spill out at the school gate – he was never late.

Because my son is lucky, he has the tools at his disposal to get to school and to get there on time.

But there are children who don’t make it to school everyday and there are those who are often late. There can be a variety of reasons for this and I would say categorically that none of them are the fault of the child. Certainly not at Primary school level. Some may have issues at home and some may have chronic illnesses. These kids probably have enough problems as it is without being made to feel shitty about letting everyone else down. They should be given support and the focus should be on improving their attendance, if it’s possible. They should be given concessions if needed and praised for improvement when its relevant. And in my opinion, that’s something that should be between them, their parents and the school.

What we shouldn’t be doing is praising kids that consistently have good attendance rates. They don’t have these additional issues in their lives. I’m told it’s done because its “motivational”.  But do you need to motivate someone who is already doing the thing you want them to do? Is motivation even a thing at four years old? And what exactly is motivational about congratulating the able child for just showing up on time like they should? If my son starts life thinking that just turning up is enough, he’s not going to achieve much is he?

So please, stop praising him for just showing up.



photo credit: CJS*64 Open all hours ! via photopin (license)

You may also enjoy...


  1. I was worried for a bit, reading this, that you might go on to have a go at those kids who, for various reasons, have a lower attendance. But I needn’t have worried, as you go on to making some very good points. 👍
    I also know that some children have had leaflets sent home shaming/lecturing about low attendance. Terrible! I don’t think there are many kids who have a bad attendance for no reason at all, and as you say, if they do there probably is a need for some kind of support, not leaflets lecturing about what counts as a valid illness etc.

  2. Hi Sarah, I love this and totally agree. The powers that be may think it’s motivational, but how does it make poor little Joe/ Jo Blogs feel when their attendance level is down through no fault of their own? I am also a great believer in getting over an illness properly and when my two were small if it meant keeping them off for an extra day or two. The system here is crap too, from the age of twelve children are only allowed so many black marks (missed lessons) signed off by parents or Drs, once they exceed the limit there is a good chance they will get held back a year and that is stress youngsters don’t need… If only we ruled the world?


  3. I am SO with you on all of this. Grace has had 100% attendance for years. This year – since the beginning of January – she has had a tummy bug twice! I did what I needed to do and kept her off 48 hours after the last issue to make sure she was clear but she got it back again! I am sure that there were other parents not doing this though! #MMBC

Leave a Reply