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Child with fluctuating (lowish) attendance at secondary school

(10 Posts)
Runningtokeepstill Sat 18-Oct-14 14:04:58

I'm trying to find out what my son's rights are (and mine as his parent) if he is only able to attend school 3-4 days a week.

He has had problems with chronic pain syndrome and pain amplification following a fall when he was 9. He's now 15 and the pain hasn't gone away. I'm aware of school and LEA policies regarding attendance and regarding disability. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much joining up of the 2.

There is support for children who need education because they are off school for say several weeks or months at a time (LEA provides e-learning). But if he can only attend 3 or 4 days then it just triggers all the automatic absence chasing protocols without necessarily taking into account his situation. And school staff just then look at how they can force him to attend.

He had to leave his previous secondary school as there was a total breakdown in communication and trust by the end of his time there. I won't go into it as it would take ages but it was horrendous and the school regularly asked us to home educate him due to his absences.

He's at a new secondary school and they've been wonderful so far but as he's now down to 65% attendance, I've been told someone will be contacting me to put "measures in place". I can't see what "measures" will be helpful as if he is in severe pain he cannot walk. His previous school pushed us to ask his consultant to sign him off as unfit to attend (much better for their absence figures) but I fought against this as strongly as I could because when he is having a better day, he should be in school.

What I want is for him to continue to go to school on the 3-4 days each week that he is able and catch up with what he's missed when he's been off. He's doing a reduced number of GCSEs so this should be possible. But has he got a legal right to this? I've searched endlessly online and found nothing except that his pattern of absence is seen as likely to be "suspicious". Yet I know he isn't the only child with this sort of illness so I thought I'd see if anyone else had found a solution.

lateSeptember1964 Wed 22-Oct-14 13:41:05

No solution but watching with interest. My son has Crohns and school attendance since April 2013 has been below 25%. He is now at a new school and I feel that their expectation of 100% is unreasonable. He has good days and bad days but they don't seem to appreciate this. I would be happy with 60% attendance.

I am tired of being threatened and spoken to as if I am a bad parent. Surely a child with illness/disability should not have the same expectation on them as a well child. I think my next step will be to contact Parent Partnership for advice.

LeapingOverTheWall Wed 22-Oct-14 13:58:45

DD2 had 60% attendance one school year, 85% the ext, btu o our case what happened was that her Head of House spoke to the EWO, and between them they agreed that there was no point in sending us letters, as DD would be in when she was able to, and not when she was ill.

So there are options for the school if they want to be supportive (and are able to justify their absence figures - we have a massive school, so DD doesn't affect the overall percentages particularly). No advice about the legalities of it all, sorry. Do you have a particularly supportive member of staff who can intervene in the reporting systems for you? Have you had face to face meetings with Head of Year/House/Pastoral care to sort out procedures/a care plan? Can you get his consultant to write a letter to the school saying that it's important that he attends as much as he is able, whenever he is able? IME schools like official letters, then they can point to them when LEA/DofE bureaucracy is being inflexible.

Corestrategy Mon 27-Oct-14 11:30:21

Has his consultant written to explain his pattern of illness? I think it would be really useful if the school had concrete evidence to justify his absences.

Runningtokeepstill Fri 31-Oct-14 11:56:34

Thanks for the replies.

Core my son doesn't currently have a consultant anymore, as the paediatrician could only prescribe medication that didn't work, so he got discharged a year or so ago. But the experience he had at his previous school was that evidence from a consultant didn't get them off his back. And the focus was very much on attendance rather than supporting his education through these health problems. I'm hoping this school will be better. I have historical evidence from consultant and GOSH and I know our GP will write if necessary.

lateSept, my oldest ds was at school with a girl with Crohns a few years ago and she was hardly there, but still managed to get good GCSEs. I think it was much easier then as OFSTED guidelines on attendance were not as strict. As ds1 had his own (different) health issues, we have experience of the, now unsupportive, school doing everything they could to facilitate his education- rather than just rabbiting on about attendance, while neglecting the child's needs, as happens now. But there is some hope as I have seen government documents from 2012 when the persistent absence threshold was changed to 15% (so 85% attendance) stating that where there is a genuine health problem the child and their family shouldn't suffer and the school shouldn't be penalised.

I have contacted ds's school and a meeting has been arranged for the first day back after the half term holiday. I still can't find any evidence of children's rights to come in when they can. I tried ParentPartnership and they put me through to the local authority attendance service who suggested stuff like getting him signed off as too ill to attend. This we don't want. It was tried at his last school and didn't help. He's so much better now and I think 60% attendance with help outside school would enable him to get the GCSE results he needs.

Corestrategy Fri 31-Oct-14 18:04:25

If he can get help when he is off could you ask the school to put his attendance down as "educated off site"? This will not adversely affect their figures.

Icimoi Sun 02-Nov-14 09:29:46

Your DS does have a right to full time education and the local authority can't put the responsibility onto you. Have a look at section 19 of the Education Act 1996.

I think your DS would be entitled to home tuition, though I suspect you'd have to fight for it. The previous guidance on children with medical needs set out that if children have conditions that mean they will be off school frequently the council must put in place tuition arrangements that kick in on Day 1 of any absence. I'm not sure what the current guidance says, but I think the same principle must apply. It could also be that your DC would qualify for an Education, Health and Care Plan because he is missing so much education.

I know about this because friends have a child with a chronic condition that means regular absences but he could learn at home. They had all the threats of prosecution till they went to solicitors who pointed out to the council that it was actually they who were breaking the law. They still had quite a fight because the council's policies all said they would only offer tutors for absences over 5 days, but ultimately they went to tribunal who said the council's policies were irrelevant and ordered that the child have a statement which required arrangements for home tuition from the first day of any absence

Runningtokeepstill Sun 02-Nov-14 14:34:20

I know we could get support for the local authority for days when he his not in, as we've had that in his previous school. The issue I have with it is that what is provided is online e-learning lessons that are really aimed at people who are completely out of school. They cannot link into individual schools as it is a county wide service. So if you are only out 1 or 2 days a week it's best not to have e-learning but to get work from the school and try to keep up with what everyone else in the class is doing. For GCSE, this must surely be essential as different schools choose different courses and exam boards so whatever GCSE course the e-learning students are on isn't likely to be what he is doing at school.

What I want to be able to say to ds's school is that he doesn't need/want the e-learning as at this stage it wouldn't fit with what he's doing. He needs to be able to go into school when he can and then use any spare time (he's on a reduced number of subjects) to catch up with what he's missed.

When my DS1 had health problems a few years ago, this was just seen as a sensible way of working. Now it's seen as a huge problem by the schools and local authority as "persistent" absence of more than 15% is frowned on by OFSTED and schools feel they need to be seen to be doing something. I know there is government guidance that sick children, their families and their schools should not suffer but his last school didn't seem to feel that. They'd rather have had him signed off as unfit to be in school at all, then he fits into a convenient box they can tick as educated elsewhere and they don't have to bother.

I am hoping his current school won't be like this as they've been miles better so far. But I'm worried as I spoke to someone in the LA attendance service who said that if ds was ill so frequently wouldn't it be better if he was signed off as unfit and didn't come in at all. NO, no, no it wouldn't. Been there and it doesn't help him at all. That's why I was looking for information about the legal position. I now think there isn't any info and it would have to be an issue decided by case law if anyone ever got that far.

Runningtokeepstill Mon 03-Nov-14 12:36:33

Big sigh of relief! Had the meeting at school with Head of Year and it was all very supportive. Did touch on the "what's happening with attendance - it's really low" but I'd produced a list of all the support he'd either had or (mostly) been refused. And what I'd looked into in order to try to get more help (sadly non-existent) to get ds well enough to get in there. And pointed out that his attendance, although low, is vastly improved from what it was last time he attempted education with a (different) local secondary school. So we are going down the sensible route of helping him to catch up and looking at possibly having some reduced school days where not much is timetabled to see if this helps.

I feel so much better and very pleased that I held out and went to appeal to get him into this school after a period of home ed. I feel certain, having looked round it, that the school he'd been offered by the LA would have been like his old place and just fixated on attendance rather than his right to an education. It's so sad. Why can't every school be like the one he is at? I have a strong suspicion that it is one of the last, if not the last one in the area that has a supportive attitude to pupils who don't fit in the box.

Corestrategy Mon 03-Nov-14 12:52:01

Good news! Yes, it is a shame that all schools are not so good sad

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