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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Dunne

The Tale of the Carrot and the Stick

Spring term has come to an end, so I was thinking about this topic some more this morning.

Maybe some schools have given out attendance certificates  or rewards for behaviour at the end of term. It seems like a positive thing to do - rewarding people etc. Sure, it's a nice thing to do, right?

Incentivising, acknowledging those who show up, tune in and engage etc. Well-deserved. Celebrate the success of those who attend every single day and do everything that's ever asked of them.

What could possibly be wrong with it? People love a carrot. 

Not at Westward. Our carrots are in cookery sessions and our sticks are at Outdoor School - and that’s where they’ll stay. 

As a society, we often place a great deal of value on attendance and punctuality. This is particularly true in the context of schools, where attendance is often seen as a measure of a child's commitment and engagement with their education. However, the push for attendance rewards, and the increasing use of school apps that monitor behaviour, can be exclusionary and cause anxiety. 

Firstly, let's discuss 100% attendance rewards. These rewards - often in the form of certificates or prizes - are typically given to children who have not missed a single day of school over a certain period of time. While it may seem like a harmless way to incentivise attendance, it often fails to take into account the fact that some children may have legitimate reasons for missing school, such as chronic illness, mental health issues or disabilities. Rewarding only those who can consistently attend every day can create a sense of exclusion and inadequacy for children who already face pretty immense challenges! 

Similarly, school apps that monitor behaviour and attendance can also have a negative impact on children. These apps often track a wide range of behaviours, including attendance, punctuality, good organisation skills and discipline. 

While they are intended to help children stay on track and be accountable, they can also contribute to a culture of surveillance and anxiety.

For example, children who are autistic,  ADHDers, those with anxiety or other mental health issues, or those with learning needs or disabilities - for those children - they may find it difficult to meet the expectations set, leading them to feel like they are constantly being judged or punished for not meeting the standards. This can exacerbate feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety and can be detrimental to mental health.

Ultimately, the focus on attendance rewards and behaviour monitoring apps can perpetuate an ableist culture where some children are left feeling like they don't belong. Instead, we should be working towards inclusive policies and practices that acknowledge and support the diverse needs and abilities of all children.

We need to help all children thrive and achieve their full potential. Carrots and sticks, apps, award ceremonies, certificates, letters to parents threatening prosecution.... enough already. Seriously.

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