Most children who school refuse or struggle to attend, do actually want to attend, but for one reason or another they cannot. Potentially this means that they are unable to access an appropriate education. Understanding the difficulties they face is crucial to help them to improve their attendance and access learning opportunities.
School attendance difficulties are often experienced by children and young people with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities that are either undiagnosed, or diagnosed but insufficiently supported in school, creating increasing levels of anxiety and stress.
Schools should identify and support children with SEN and/or a disability. Children may be supported from within the school’s own resources under SEN Support or they may have an EHC plan (ECHP)
Emotional and mental health difficulties can be exacerbated by SEN, but are also listed as an SEN area of need.
The Send Code of Practice, 2015 states that a child or young person with Special Educational Needs “Has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools or mainstream post-16 institutions across these broad areas of need : Communication and interaction, Cognition and learning, Social, emotional and mental health difficulties and Sensory and/or physical needs.*
Many children experiencing mental health difficulties have an underlying SEN condition which contributes to their anxiety, including ASD, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder and Dyslexia. Learning difficulties or disabilities can make it harder for them to learn than most other children and young people of about the same age. Other difficulties can make it hard for children to cope within the school environment; These can include social, emotional or mental health difficulties such as establishing friendships, or coping with a variety of emotions which can also contribute to increased vulnerability to bullying. For this reason SEND and mental health difficulties need to be identified and acknowledged, with reasonable adjustments made, and the necessary support put in place to help children to overcome these difficulties.
Professionals should also be alert to other events that can lead to learning difficulties or wider mental health difficulties, such as bullying or bereavement.
“For some children, SEND can be identified at an early age. However, for other children and young people difficulties become evident only as they develop and mature. All those who work with children and young people should be alert to emerging difficulties and respond as early as possible. In particular, parents know their children best and it is important that all professionals listen and understand when parents express concerns about their child’s development.”
“Many will require support from a multi disciplinary team, with health professionals advising education services on managing health conditions”
Persistent disruptive or withdrawn behaviours do not necessarily mean that a child or young person has SEND. Where there are concerns, there should be an assessment to determine whether there are any causal factors such as undiagnosed learning difficulties, difficulties with communication or mental health issues.”
* Send Code of Practice 2015
Children and young people who have a consistent plan to support their SEND, which is shared with all staff, will usually be more able to engage with educational opportunities. This includes not only through school provision, but where they cannot meet a child’s needs, school, or parents, should request an EHC needs assessment, with a view to developing an Education Health & Care Plan.
If your child already has a recognised SEND and/or an EHCP, their school refusal/anxiety strongly indicates that their needs are not being met and/or the support they have in place needs adapting. If so, speak to the SENCo; or request an urgent review of the EHCP; or start an application for an EHCP if you do not have one in place.
Increasingly we are hearing of school refuser children who are being assessed and awarded an ECHP.
If parents need advice about SEND or EHCPs, consult with a service such as SENDIASS, IPSEA or SOS! SEN.
* Many aspects of the approach set out in Chapter 6 draw on learning from the piloting and subsequent work of Achievement for All (This demonstrates that when a whole-school approach to supporting pupils with SEN is taken, along with effective engagement with parents, there can be a clear impact on attainment.
Colleges and early years providers who need to improve the knowledge and skills of staff in relation to specific conditions can access information, advice and training materials that have been developed through the Department for Education’s voluntary and community sector grants programme. NASEN provides a SEN Gateway that enables access to a broad range of materials and support services across the range of SEN (www.sendgateway.org.uk).
The Excellence gateway provides access to resources to support professional development in the FE and Skills sector (www.excellencegateway.org.uk).
Early Support provides a range of information materials to families and professionals www.ncb.org.uk/earlysupport.
The following organisations provide advice, information and training on specific difficulties :
The Autism Education Trust for children and young people on the Autism Spectrum (www.autismeducationtrust.org.uk
The Communications Trust for speech, language and communication difficulties (www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk)
The Dyslexia SpLD Trust on dyslexia and literacy difficulties (www.thedyslexia-spldtrust.org.uk)
The National Sensory Impairment Partnership for vision impairment, hearing impairment and multi-sensory impairment (www.natsip.org.uk)
Each of these organisations is working with funding from the Department for Education to support the reforms to the SEN system.
MindEd (www.minded.org.uk) is an e-learning portal aimed at supporting all adults working with children and young people. It provides simple, clear guidance on children and young people’s mental health, wellbeing and development.
*Communication and interaction
6.28 Children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) have difficulty in communicating with others. This may be because they have difficulty saying what they want to, understanding what is being said to them or they do not understand or use social rules of communication. The profile for every child with SLCN is different and their needs may change over time. They may have difficulty with one, some or all of the different aspects of speech, language or social communication at different times of their lives.
6.29 Children and young people with ASD, including Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism, are likely to have particular difficulties with social interaction. They may also experience difficulties with language, communication and imagination, which can impact on how they relate to others.
Cognition and learning
6.30 Support for learning difficulties may be required when children and young people learn at a slower pace than their peers, even with appropriate differentiation. Learning difficulties cover a wide range of needs, including moderate learning difficulties (MLD), severe learning difficulties (SLD), where children are likely to need support in all areas of the curriculum and associated difficulties with mobility and communication, through to profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), where children are likely to have severe and complex learning difficulties as well as a physical disability or sensory impairment.
6.31 Specific learning difficulties (SpLD), affect one or more specific aspects of learning. This encompasses a range of conditions such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia.
Social, emotional and mental health difficulties
6.32 Children and young people may experience a wide range of social and emotional difficulties which manifest themselves in many ways. These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviour. These behaviours may reflect underlying mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression, self-harming, substance misuse, eating disorders or physical symptoms that are medically unexplained. Other children and young people may have disorders such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder or attachment disorder.
6.33 Schools and colleges should have clear processes to support children and young people, including how they will manage the effect of any disruptive behaviour so it does not adversely affect other pupils. The Department for Education publishes guidance on managing pupils’ mental health and behaviour difficulties in schools – see the References section under Chapter 6 for a link.
Sensory and/or physical needs
6.34 Some children and young people require special educational provision because they have a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of the educational facilities generally provided. These difficulties can be age related and may fluctuate over time. Many children and young people with vision impairment (VI), hearing impairment (HI) or a multi-sensory impairment (MSI) will require specialist support and/or equipment to access their learning, or habilitation support. Children and young people with an MSI have a combination of vision and hearing difficulties.6.35 Some children and young people with a physical disability (PD) require additional ongoing support and equipment to access all the opportunities available to their peers.