We got Williams report today and they gave him 10 unauthorised absences for the days he missed after mum died (his very much loved grandma) in September.
I’m absolutely appalled by this and on doing some research it seems its quite normal, in fact any child taking time off following a death is classed as taking an extended ‘holiday’ It is just not allowed ! You will be fined! It’s official.. Kids are not allowed to grieve!
During the first few days of mums unexpected death (it was a very traumatic time) we were ‘door stepped’ by the school who sent round the schools attendance officer and LEA attendance officer to knock on our door without warning and question us. It was one of the most traumatic, humiliating and upsetting moments of our lives.
I sat at my dining table with my exhausted body slumping and a red raw face from crying solidly for three days , in front of me was the details of the procedures the funeral director needed to carry out on mums body and a number of forms I needed to fill out to register the death. I sat slumped with humiliation , William by my side as he sobbed Silent tears of grief and sadness and They stood over us and talked at us , we don’t remember what they said.. We just stared at them unseeingly and on mute through our pain.
We were so shocked and too upset to be able to react properly at the time, we had maintained contact with the school letting them know why William wouldn’t be in and even requesting the pastoral team to contact us with advice on how to support our broken young man. They responded by turning up unannounced (just after we’d seen the funeral director ) to check up on us. How is this even allowed, let alone appropriate, to intrude on a grieving family? I can only presume they turned up to check we weren’t lying about mums death?! They returned un-invited four days later and did the same.
William took 10 days off in total, two of which he was ill, one he was at the funeral and the rest he was simply broken. (You get two attendance marks a day )
Both our girls were given three weeks off university at this time but William apparently wasn’t entitled to any, yet at 13 was the one struggling the most.
To make things worse the school also dished out 10 behaviour points and 10 detentions on his return, among other things , for not completing homework that was set during the time he was absent.
We had been assured that during his return that all his teachers would be informed of his situation and that they would help support him. It was agreed that at anytime should he find himself getting emotional or that any time felt he was overwhelmed, that he could let the teacher know and they’d send him to the pastoral office where the dedicated staff member would support him.
On his first day he became upset after been given his third detention.. (teachers hadn’t been informed after all) and requested that he could go to see the dedicated staff member. The teacher reluctantly let him go after saying ‘don’t you think you’ve had enough time off?’.
As William arrived at the pastoral office he discovered that the staff member who was looking after him was busy with another pupil. So he was sent to the first aid room where the school nurse sat him in a room and gave him a box of tissues and left. He was in that room over an hour on his own and when the nurse came back she snapped ‘ you still crying?’ Tutted and left the room again. Not helpful.
He called us sobbing and we went to collect him, we were told we couldn’t just ‘pick him up’ without permission .. our own son? .. the conversation didn’t last long as we demanded firmly that we were taken to him and we could and indeed would ‘just take him’ at any time. Indeed he was found sat on his own sobbing to an empty room, our broken boy.
Just as you think you can see the light
Five months later and after counselling (that we organised privately) William is much better but on finding out his absences were ‘un authorised’ yesterday we felt very let down.. again! We are so very upset that it’s clear they care so little for our child and his needs. How can kids feel safe and ‘held’ when their grief is dismissed so easily? And how do we as parents trust the school to take care of our children when they are in their care?
For most kids loosing a grandparent it’s most probably the worst moment of their life so far, their first experience of loss and their first time that they question their own mortality! The way this is processed will determine how they deal with death into the future. Belittling this grief and not allowing or recognising their pain sends them a very strong but clear message… it says ” we don’t care about your family or your feelings, we just care about you passing your exams” it also tells them that grieving is somehow not acceptable.. perhaps even weak. This approach is not going to encourage any child to feel encouraged to engage in school life, the place they spend a solid eleven years of their live, day to day and it certainly doesn’t build us healthy and strong adults of the future.
The school report we received yesterday informs us that it is ‘very likely further action will be taken’ (due to this high level of unauthorised absence) . How fantastic! So after we start to recover from the hardest and most traumatic time of all of our lives, we now have to deal with a fine and the humiliation of having to sign a document that promises that we commit to ensuring excellent attendance or risk a trip to court and even social services getting involved.
As parents. we are all committed to our children’s school and education , but our priority is always the commitment to our children and their overall health and happiness.. that always comes first!
I, like every other parent, expected to have the control over how we parented and that we’d decide what was best for our child. When you hold your baby for the first time you never imagine you won’t be able to care for your child at times of sadness without having to follow someone else’s rules or risk been fined or threatened.
Could we be at risk of social services getting involved? They did turn up at our house without warning and if they do take us to court what will happen? Will we be seen as a family who doesn’t do our duty and provide a solid education for our children? We weren’t the ones leaving a distressed child alone in a room, nor were we humiliating him in front of his peers or dismissing his sadness. We only let him grieve in a safe and loving environment, so how is it we feel so frightened?
It’s a no from me
Did you know a child can only attend a funeral at the discretion of a head teacher?
No matter what, who or how the death occurred. It’s right there in the report from the former schools minister ( it is the former schools minister, but I cant find any more recent information so have to presume this thinking still stands)
It’s not a given they can attend to say goodbye to their loved ones at a funeral with all their other family members and parents . No, it’s something a near stranger decides for you and your child.. let that sink in a moment.. you don’t decide if you child attends the funeral of a family member with the rest of their family!
Punishing with behaviour records.
William has an exemplary behaviour record, teachers always tell us he is attentive, quiet, polite and considerate. I’m not just doing the ‘my child is never naughty’ thing, he has him moments like any normal child, but William is and has been a gentle and quiet boy, the easiest of our four children and best behaved, he is a good kid. But this year so far he has so many ‘behaviour points’ given to him without any discussion or consideration.
It seems the way forward is to punish our kids whatever, in any circumstance. In fact they don’t even allow a child to try an explain their situation ( this is disrespecting the teacher) . So now , on record, he is suddenly seen as a child in which ‘action needs to be taken’ and he didn’t do anything wrong but grieve.
These ‘points’ come from him not completing homework that was set while he was absent (following the death …in one instance he didn’t get a log-in for an online learning scheme and was put in detention for not knowing about it.. it was given to children while he was at the funeral) one of the detentions was handed out for taking the wrong socks for PE on his first day back after the funeral. Socks??? if only they had seen the courage and strength he mustered to return to school that day! ..Then to top it off, another detention, because we didn’t sign his personal planner during the two weeks he was off school. I mean really? what were they trying to do to us? were we not broken enough? This was beginning to feel like they were bullying us.
He was shouted at and punished without any consideration of what was going on with him, blanket rules for individual children really doesn’t work .
When in training
When you train to be a teacher you are taught to always consider the needs of each individual student/learner. In fact I remember tons of sessions during my training where we examined how to see each learner as an individual with individual needs. We had brain storming sessions weekly where we were encouraged to think of reasons a student may be struggling or need support. Of course hitting a teacher or another student is a pretty black or white case, but giving the same punishments to a child for forgetting his PE socks (when they are going through a really rough time) is not something you are trained to do! It’s common sense to everyone surely?
You are trained to recognise when your discretion should be used. It’s your job as a teacher, your responsibility. Are teaching staff forced to implement no tolerance to all students now? It’s a dangerous and cruel tactic if they are?
As it stands at Williams school, you get the same punishment for your parent not signing you planner as say, a student who just verbally abused a teacher in a fit of rage.
This attitude is not teaching fairness and doesn’t give children the space to be heard or respected. School is not the army! This is a modern school, a place that is supposed to offer safety, pastoral care and social enrichment not punish the kids at every opportunity no matter what the specifics.
This stuff messes kids up! They don’t forget! It shapes them and sends them into the future believing their voice is not worthy of being heard. They believe that they are a failure and that if something out of their control affects their performance they must take the blame and just ‘carry on’ .
Not such a great message when the biggest cause of death in young men is suicide and that young people are self harming in higher numbers that ever before.
Schools are actively and openly damaging our children.
Problem parents and problem child
Not only did William go through a very traumatic time and loose one of his closest relatives, but he has now been tarred as a problem child in school and we have been labelled as problem parents. (Just to be clear, we have dedicated our lives to our children) we are not problem parents!
Looking at employment information and guidelines, adults (including teaching staff) receive 5 days minimum paid bereavement leave and up to 6 weeks unpaid.. however our children are not granted any. They are children, why aren’t they supported?
How does this make any sense? When we are in a time where the mental health of our children is at an all time low, surely we understand the importance of self care and pastoral, supportive environments ? Is the school system really supporting our children or are they marching them straight into a life of depression, self harm , mental illness and anxiety?
Apparently according to the former education minister, children can not use the death of a loved one as an “excuse to take an ‘extended holiday’ under any circumstances” as it affects their overall results long term! Don’t worry about the shell of child they spit out when they turn 16, as long as they get the results!
In what era do we live in? We moved on a long time ago from believing children should be separated and kept away from death. It’s clear that these archaic ideas have caused untold damage to the lives of children in the past.
Parents and experts (parents are experts on their child by the way) now understand that children must be able to grieve , to do this they must be told the truth about death and kept involved with people they love both in life, illness and in death. It’s the only way to heal and only way to move on into the future. It goes without saying that some children need to get straight back into life, but that is up to the parent and child to decide.
A funeral is crucial part of this process, a ritual and a closure, a final goodbye in the presence of you family and friends.
I repeat the only people that know what is right for a child is their parent and the child themselves. It certainly isn’t the call of a head teacher, who in most schools have very little to do with each child on a day to day basis. I doubt Williams head teacher could pick him out of a line up..he certainly says he’s never been face to face with her. So how does she get to give her blessing for him to attend a funeral? What does she know about what his needs are? or indeed who is is at all?
Cruise and Marie Curie, among others, advise that each child is individually affected in their own way and that they should lead the way when deciding when they are ready to return to every day life after a loss. It certainly is not the duty of the education minister, the head teacher or the attendance officer, it’s the child and their parents.
Just to make sure they are well and truly broken
To make things worse and to fire the final nail in the coffin (pardon the pun) they continue to punish that child who took time off to grieve for the rest of the year. Every report sent out that same year will mention their low attendance (anything under 97.5. % is low) and this low attendance is forever referred to as staff make decisions on who is moved up and down in subject sets that reflect their abilities.
It’s openly acknowledged in school that often ability related sets are over subscribed to. So they need to make space to move kids up to achieve their potential. To do this they will take out the students with the lowest attendance before those with the lowest achievement level. This was told to me by staff when we questioned why our high achieving son was moved down a set. He was moved down not because he was struggling with the work but because he had taken time off due to illness.
So students who are ill, disabled, grieving or simply struggling with life, are put down into groups that don’t provide them opportunity to fulfil their potential academically. All because the system sees only ‘healthy’ students as their priority. In short it’s not about how clever you are, it’s about how lucky you are to stay healthy and that you are lucky enough to be blessed with an easy life. Yet another blow in the confidence of the child who is already facing challenging times.
If you’ve ever sat in a class where you are far beyond the level you are taught , you will understand the frustration and how it sets in a strong feeling of dissolution. Particularly as lower sets do tend to have less disciplined and positive learning environments.
Treats for the healthy and Lucky
At the end of the academic year many schools have a treat for those students who have excellent attendance. It maybe a film or take-out pizza, sometimes it’s a trip to a theme park. In the final year it’s the eligibility to attend prom.
It goes without saying that students who have been unlucky enough to be ill throughout the year or have lost a loved one, they will be excluded from these celebrations.
It is often normal for these children to sit and witness those celebrating their good health and fortune, while they are publicly excluded from the fun. A humiliating day and I guess that’s the entire point of it, to humiliate the kids into attendance?!
William’s school also offers a prize for the form with the overall highest attendance. Of course this creates added peer pressure and tension as poorly students and students who need time away, “let down the whole class.” Encouraging bullying and extra pressure these struggling children just don’t need the extra pressure.
For all those sick kids, for all those with challenging home lives , who are grieving or are suffering with their mental health, their school life consists of one miserable day after another. Something that really won’t help them during their already difficult lives.
So as they trudge through their childhood in an environment that doesn’t hear them or believe in them, they end their year sat in a detention room as their friends celebrate the end of school. They just sit punished once more for no other reason that not fitting to the expectations of every other ‘normal’ or healthy child. Often this repeated insinuation that they are not good enough sets in a attitude if ‘why bother’ and eventually they give up even trying at all.
The prom, albeit a modern and imported American tradition, means a lot to the kids these days. It marks the end of their school life and in turn marks the beginning of their adult life. It’s a milestone for them, a little like a modern debutant ball.
Yet even here, at the last opportunity the school has to bring all their students together, celebrate their childhood and achievements they still exclude and refuse to let some children celebrate.
Not only do they make them miserable and separate them from day to day school life, they then make sure they end it all with a parting shot of ‘ we don’t think you should be at prom because it’s to celebrate the ‘successful’ kids, you are not one of them, your time here was pointless, your childhood was wasted! ‘
Talk about a final kick in the teeth.
Providing a safe environment
What ever happened to providing an environment in which children can achieve and flourish? For many ‘unlucky’ children, school is torture. It punishes them at every corner. Staff don’t hear them, they don’t consider them and they punish them for the things they have no control over.
To finish them off they separate them from their peers and create a behaviour record that doesn’t reflect that child in any way, yet that reputation follows them into the future.
Recently the press reported that the rates for children deregistered from schools to be ‘home educated’ has risen sharply. These parents repeatedly say they felt forced out because their children were not a good statistic for the school. Is this what is happening? If a child doesn’t fit the desired mould do they purposely make them feel so undervalued and unsupported that they feel they have no option but to leave?
After all, parents only want their children to be well and happy. If school is not only preparing them for a life of work but for a life of mental illness and lack of self worth, then I don’t see many parents not taking them out of the system.
Perfect for those schools wanting 100% pass rates they separate the proverbial wheat .
Remember you can sit a gcse at any age, you can learn at any age, only the school system demands it has to be achieved by the age of 16. As many parents ask themselves what is more important? Is it health, happiness and confidence for life? or is it 8 GCSEs by the age of 16?
It’s clear the schools, government and Lea’s need to consider their responsibilities to our children and mostly they have to stop abusing them for not fulfilling their blanket expectations.