Parents furious as Swindon school bars exam pupils from prom over absence rates

Abbey Park School has introduced a passport system for its Year 11 prom

Parents in Swindon have hit out at a school’s decision not to invite some of its pupils to the senior prom, marking the end of exam season.

Pupils with a less than 96% attendance rating at Abbey Park School were told that they could not attend the event for Year 11 students.

The school says 59 pupils, 30% of the school’s Year 11 classes have been told they will not be invited to the event. It follows the introduction of ‘prom passports’.

In order to have a prom passport a student needs to have attended school for at least 96% of the school year, meaning that anyone who missed more than seven days of school in their final year would not be allowed to go.

Parents say that it is a ‘cruel’ system, especially in the wake of the pandemic. 

In response, the school principal, Jon Young, said that the prom organisers had not included Covid-related absences within the tally when deciding which children would be invited to go to the end of year event.

One concerned parent, Sandy Jonsson, said: "There are many reasons in the last two years why any child might not have achieved that attendance score.

"Things like, shielding for parents, if they have tested positive for Covid-19, students were off with anxiety because of the pandemic or due to the pressures of homeschooling. Students with autism may have not been able to cope with the change of having to work on their own at home. There are so many different combinations of children that didn't qualify."

She has called the new prom passport system cruel, especially given the Covid-19 pandemic and how it has affected this cohort of children, whom she called the ‘’most affected of any school year so far’’.

The timing of the announcement has also caused anger, because parents received the letters banning their children from the Year 11 Prom, a few days before the children were due to start their GCSEs on 16th May 2022.

Sandy Jonsson works with many other parents across the area to help hold schools to account. She reached out for feedback to the prom passport issue on social media. In her post to Swindon Community Notice Boards she wrote:

"Has your child not been invited to the 2022 Prom at Abbey Park School or if they have been invited, are they someone who has friends who have not been invited? Are you sitting at home worrying about the situation?

"Would you be interested in giving some feedback about this? A group of concerned parents is considering organising another event to help celebrate your child's achievement of reaching Year 11 successfully?"

'My child was invited but doesn't want to go because his friends won't be there'

She says she was inundated with replies, including one parent who said that her son was invited to the prom because of his ‘good behaviour’ points, but that he has chosen not to attend. "It should be for all of Year 11, as a reward/final goodbye for the past five years, not just this year," the concerned parent said. Another comment said: "That's disgusting - everyone or no-one." 

Other people spoke about how they had not been able to take part in their equivalent ‘prom experiences’ and that it still affected them years later.

Another comment was by someone explaining that she had arrived at the school too late to earn stamps to be invited to the prom. She said:  "I'm still bitter about it, they stole my only chance at Prom." 

Other people agreed that students are being penalised, not for 'naughty behaviour' but because they can not meet the 'unreasonably high criteria.'

In defending the new prom passport scheme, the Abbey Park School principal, Jon Young, said:

"A Prom Passport, or similar, is an initiative we and many other schools use with our year 11 pupils. Prom Passports, with their targets, were given to all year 11 pupils in September 2021, along with a letter of explanation, on their return to school at the start of this very important year for them.

"We set our pupils challenging, but achievable targets, however we have been mindful of the impact of Covid-19 and have excluded Covid-19 absences from the attendance calculations. 96 per cent attendance is the target we have set in previous years and equates to a child missing over seven days of school in their final exam year, important teaching time given how much their schooling has been impacted due to the pandemic.

"We have also considered individual circumstances where appropriate when making final decisions on invitations to the Prom. We are very proud of our students in how they have adapted throughout their GCSE courses and we wish them the very best in their exams."

Sandy Jonsson, who is challenging the rules said: "I just feel that it's a very unacceptable situation - it's ruthless considering that this generation of children has gone through the worst experience ever.

She added: "The families were sent a cold, very unkind letter - I think it's exceptionally insensitive and think that now more than ever, the children need to be reassured. It's just like a punishment, some of them will be distraught.".