Meaningful moments matter: Imogen’s attendance blog

4 mins read

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Contact's Policy & Public Affairs Officer Imogen

Imogen, Contact’s Policy & Public Affairs Officer.

As Contact’s CEO uses a comment piece in the Express to urge the government against penalising disabled children for non-attendance, our Policy & Public Affairs Officer Imogen talks about her experience at school and why meaningful moments matter.

Earlier this year, the government launched a national campaign on school attendance, using the strapline ‘Moments Matter, Attendance Counts’.

The campaign is the latest tool in the government’s focus on school attendance. But in implying parents are keeping children out of school for every little thing, and an assertion that every moment of education missed will affect a child’s future, the campaign shows a lack of awareness of the reasons why many disabled children are often absent from school.

My personal experience – meaningful moments

Years before working for Contact as a Policy and Public Affairs Officer, I was a persistent absentee at school. Having been born with complex cerebral palsy, my attendance was never more than 66%. Hospital appointments, trials of new treatments and chronic pain meant that I spent a lot of my school days in bed unwell or engaged in therapy aimed at improving my quality of life in the future.

The most extreme example was when I missed the entirety of year five because I underwent multilevel surgery. This surgery allowed me to retain movement in my legs, so the year of rehabilitation it required was essential. In secondary school, I regularly missed days and weeks due to chronic pain. I soon learnt that when I did try to attend school in pain, I could not concentrate. I was better off staying at home and catching up on the work I missed once I felt better, which was easy with supportive teachers.

I am therefore painfully aware that the ‘Moments Matter, Attendance Counts’ campaign is flawed.

While school attendance is undoubtedly important, it is not the be all and end all. I dread to think of the additional pressure and stress my parents would have encountered because of my poor attendance if I were at school now.

Support-led approach to attendance

The government needs to revisit the Moments Matter campaign and make a very significant addition: Meaningful Moments Matter. There must be recognition that the quality of moments in education count, not just the number of moments. Sometimes moments missed from school may be essential for a pupil’s development and wellbeing.

At the same time, the government must follow a support-first approach when dealing with attendance. Emphasis needs to be placed on supporting children to catch up on time missed at school and ensuring that they have all the support they need when they do attend.

The government’s current focus on high attendance figures is resulting in schools refusing to send work home to pupils unable to physically attend. Many schools are now acting as the gatekeepers to education, rather than the givers of knowledge. This further penalises those who can’t attend and are already missing out on spending time with their peer group.

The lack of understanding around the school attendance is not limited to the current government. The Labour Party have announced that they plan to drive up attendance by offering free breakfast clubs in every primary school. There needs to be an overall culture shift in the approach to school attendance to support disabled children.

It was only with the help of supportive teachers who sent work home and agreed to catch me up on the work I missed when I returned to school that I was able to succeed in education. The government and any future government must revert to this support-led approach to attendance, rather the target of 100%.

Will you write a blog on attendance?

Over the past six months, our helpline has been receiving increasing numbers of calls from parents who are being negatively impacted by the current attendance policy.

I would like to hear from parents whose disabled children are unable to attend school. Please get in touch with if you would like to write a blog sharing your personal experience of the current 100% attendance policy. Once you get in touch, we’ll be able to help you put something together. We’ll be sharing these blogs with all political parties in the hope of influencing future attendance policy.

Thank you for reading my blog.