Page last updated at 12:04 GMT, Monday, 7 December 2009

Schoolboys rewarded for not missing a day in five years

By Sean Coughlan
Education reporter, BBC News

Kingston attendance awards
The mayor's medal focuses on attendance rather than truancy

On a dark and gloomy winter's morning it takes more effort than usual to get out of bed.

But two schoolboys in south-west London have been given medals for a particular type of determination - not missing a day of school for five years.

Kingston upon Thames gives a medal to pupils with 100% attendance - and Ryan Arnold and Alexander Mackie have achieved this five years in a row.

But they have yet to match a 10-year record set in east London in the 1890s.

Truancy has been a problem that has been stubbornly difficult to tackle in local authorities across England - with only limited gains from increasingly tough penalties.

Positive approach

Kingston upon Thames wanted to emphasise the positive by re-introducing a "mayor's medal" five years ago for pupils who did not miss school all year.

Two New Malden pupils - 15-year-old Ryan Arnold and 13-year-old Alexander Mackie - have now gone five years without a day's absence.

Ming Zhang, strategic manager for pupil attendance, says there have been claims of pupils with 10 or 11 years without missing a day - but these have not been verified and five years remains the borough's current official record.

"Because any absence, even one with a very good reason, will prevent a pupil receiving the mayor's medal, it is extremely hard to achieve five years' 100% in a row," said Mr Zhang.

The council claims that this medal scheme has been a big success and that it now has the highest rate of attendance in the country with nearly 700 pupils last year not missing a single day.

"Kingston's attendance has steadily improved from being at 29th place in the country to being at the very top of the league," said Duncan Clark of the council's learning and children's services department.

Checks

This awarding of medals revived a tradition that was popular in Victorian and Edwardian schools - but which had fallen out of fashion after the First World War.

Medals for good attendance were introduced in London schools in the 1880s - with special medals for any pupil maintaining a perfect attendance for more than three years.

These were strictly supervised awards, with proof of attendance carefully checked and even a half day's absence enough to lose the medal. Head teachers also had to attest to the pupils' good behaviour.

In 1897 the longest unbroken attendance was recorded at 10 years - by a pupil in Whitechapel, says Mr Zhang.

A special medal was produced - the nine-year medal plus bar - and the recipient was given an engraving of Holman Hunt's "Finding the Saviour in the Temple".

"The idea of this award is to promote school attendance in a positive way," says Ming Zhang, education welfare officer.

"When we talk about the problem of truancy and troublesome youngsters, we very often forget that many pupils and their parents make great efforts to make sure their children attend and achieve in schools."



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