100% Attendance rewards in UK Schools are currently a hot topic, with many parents, and some teachers, speaking out against them. It's good that kids go to school, right? Part of the deal with school is that it prepares children for the adult world, including the world of work. Showing up, whether you feel like it or not, is a vital part of life, and so surely schools are right to encourage that in their students. Besides, kids are motivated by competition - everyone knows that. Where's the harm in schools offering fun rewards for kids who make an effort and show up every day?

Rewarding luck

Schools aren't recognising any achievement with 100% attendance rewards - they're recognising something individual students have no control over as the good fortune of not being taken ill, of not having family crises, of not being medically vulnerable, and thus potentially requiring many medical appointments, including hospital stays.

A child who has complex health issues, or lives with a disability, may be unavoidably absent for a significant proportion of their school time, yet will usually still manage to complete the set work. Why should they be held up as a "failure", simply because the work was completed at home, or from a hospital bed, rather than at their desk? Surely it's the completion of the work, and the learning of the lessons, that counts?

School for struggle

Class dismissed. That's an element of 100% attendance culture that schools frequently ignore, or aren't even aware of: working class students may well be absent more often than their middle-class counterparts, even if they are not ill.

The one year my attendance at high school was particularly poor, my mother had been in a hospital, having her ovaries removed.

My school didn't allow time off for care duties, yet my father couldn't afford to take time off work, beyond the week-long "compassionate leave" he was offered, and the further week he took from his holiday allowance, which covered my mother's hospitalisation. My maternal grandmother was in psychiatric care during that time, and, understandably, my grandfather was focused on her.

My paternal grandparents were dead. My aunt had three children of her own to look after, and my uncle, like my father, couldn't afford to take time off work.

So, being there during the day to fetch, carry, cook and clean for my mother, and look after her, fell to me - because there was no one else. I did mention that I needed to go to school, after a couple of weeks, my mother had a fit of temper, called me "an ungrateful brat", and reminded me that she'd "just had an operation, and could have died."

My school knew very well that my mother was inclined to be hysterical and emotionally abusive - that had been picked up at the family conference when I was statemented for emotional and behavioural issues - but they apparently didn't feel those risk factors were relevant when it came to my attendance.

Working class families often can't afford for another adult to have time off work if a spouse has been in a hospital. In the absence of grandparents or extended family, it will fall to their children - because the prevailing attitude is that working class kids will "just end up in some minimum wage job, anyway - they don't need school for that."

Favouring the bullies

If you rule the roost, anywhere, you're going to turn up as often as you can, to maintain a constant presence, and reinforce your position.

On the other hand, if you're regularly getting verbally and physically abused, mocked by teaching staff, and sexually assaulted (all of this happened on a near daily basis to me during my time at high school), you're probably going to want to avoid the scene of your humiliation like the plague.

Bullies are often rewarded for 100% attendance. Their victims are often chastised for "repeated absence", with no interest shown, or thought given, as to the reason for their absence. This only reaffirms, through the school institution, that "might is right", and being a victim is a punishable offence.

Could do better: Schooling the schools

So, how could schools address the many and varied problems of rewarding attendance?

A good starting point would be acknowledging that you don't have to be "Present, Miss" to complete work that has been set, and rewarding students who complete the work required of them despite difficult circumstances, ill health, or other factors that can and do impact attendance.

It is important to recognise those students who still come to school, even if not 100% of the time and despite being regularly and violently bullied. Schools have a habit of not doing anything about bullying, but acknowledging and rewarding the sheer guts and bravery of bullying's victims should be a priority. Because it's bravery, not presenteeism, that often counts towards success later in life.

Finally, schools need to recognise that the world is changing. In ten, fifteen, twenty years' time, only a handful of people is likely to have desks and offices they're expected to be at on a regular basis. More of us will be working from home or working from multiple locations. Schools need to start teaching the flexibility and self-motivation that will be vital for the new world of future employment, rather than clinging to the outdated authoritarian model.