Should we reward attendance or should we do the SEJ?

I once read an article on the BBC website entitled ‘Rewards don’t improve school attendance’. It says, ‘According to a large-scale study of secondary school students in California in the US, awards for good school attendance seem to make no significant difference – and in some circumstances, could make absenteeism worse.’

As you are aware, attendance at school age is mandatory in the UK. In England a pupil can leave school on the last Friday in June if they are 16 by the end of the summer holidays. They also must then do one of the following until they are 18: stay in full-time education, for example at a college; start an apprenticeship or traineeship; or spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training.

I am aware that attendance policy at the University level varies as the students are considered an ‘adult’ to make their own decisions. Some institutions stipulate the attendance is mandatory due to the nature of the courses and the progression.

While I fully understand the logic and reasons for good attendance, I find myself questioning this ‘need’ to encourage attendance particularly at University level both puzzling and alarming. Surely if you worked hard at school and found a course that you were interested in you WOULD be attending regularly, particularly with the introduction of tuition fees?

Yet time and time again, my colleagues and I notice that after around the half semester mark, there is an increasing number of empty seats compared to the full class at the start of the semester. It is often the case that around the dates for the assignment deadline, there are more empty seats as students feel they need ‘extra’ time to prepare and complete them.

This got me thinking about my thoughts and perceptions about ‘attendance’. I started applying the SEJ process onto these limiting beliefs as well as the beliefs about ‘they are not attending MY classes’ i.e. making it about myself. I was free to focus on students who have attended rather than those who were absent. I am glad to report that overall ‘attendance’ to my classes have improved after this!

It is far more rewarding as an educator to apply the SEJ to our limiting thoughts and beliefs than awarding the attendance in our classes, as it creates a long-lasting change to our teaching practice and experience as educators. Also, you only need to do them once rather than awarding each class year on year!

I would love to hear from you what your views are on this interesting topic, please get in touch via

Dr M Howard-Kishi

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