A GUIDE FOR FAMILIES
Most school-anxious/school refusing children do WANT to attend school however their difficulties and anxiety become overwhelming. They care about their education and want to succeed, however they need understanding and support at home and at school. They may need adjustments to their daily routines, timetables, or even their school environment. Pressures to focus on attendance rather than the child’s needs can make things even harder to fix.
ASK FOR HELP
Most schools should offer some mental health support, counselling, and access to a School Nurse and ask an Educational Psychologist to make an assessment. You should also speak to your child’s GP and if necessary ask for a referral to a Paediatrician or CAMHS.
ASK THE SCHOOL TO ASSESS YOUR CHILD FOR ANY RELEVANT ‘SEND’
Many children have an underlying Special Educational Need or a disability that contributes to their anxiety; this can include Autistic Spectrum Conditions, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder or Dyslexia. Undiagnosed or unsupported these can make school a difficult place to be and can contribute to mental and physical health deterioration.
SEND includes Social, Emotional or Mental Health Difficulties which can affect a child’s ability to establish friendships, cope with
strong emotions, and increase vulnerability to bullying. These are all a barrier to learning requiring the use of SEND assess plan-do-review cycles and possibly an EHCP.
APPLY FOR AN EHCP ASSESSMENT
Some children will need an Education and Health Care Plan if a school does not have the expertise or funding to fully meet a child’s needs or offer the provision a child requires to access an education. SENCOs or parents can apply to the LA for an ECHP assessment.
CONTACT ‘SENDIASS’ OR ‘IPSEA’ OR ‘SOS SEN’
Or other sources of advice about SEND and educational provision. Some offer local advice and support, and they can often attend meetings with you at school. The Local Offer can also be an invaluable source of resources, information, advice and relevant support.
Read your school’s policies and government statutory guidance for SEN, Disability, Mental Health, & Attendance – Are they being followed? If necessary follow the school’s complaints policy.
Mental health-related absence should be authorised as illness. School’s should notify the local authority if children are absent due to illness for more than 15 days. Local Authorities have a duty to ensure that a child receives alternative educational provision whilst absent, however, you will usually be asked to provide medical evidence to arrange this support.
See IPSEA’s advice
See Contact’s advice
ASK THE SCHOOL TO PROVIDE HOMEWORK WHILE YOUR CHILD IS ABSENT
Ask for homework if you feel your child can manage homework or online learning. Not continuing learning opportunities means that a pupil gets further behind which adds to anxieties around returning to school. Look for resources related to their interests, to inspire them.
ALTERNATIVE EDUCATIONAL PROVISION
Some children and young people will benefit from alternative provision through home tutors, online education, hospital school, or specialist units. When guidance is followed and children supported, they may eventually return to mainstream school or may continue long-term in specialist provision.
Some parents decide to remove their children from school to home educate. This is a big decision and should be your choice. You should not be under pressure from school or your LEA to deregister, as you could find it harder to arrange the support your child is entitled to. However, many families have found this helped them. Some children have returned to school when they are ready, while others thrive within a home educating environment, and may go on to college or university later on.
WORK WITH PROFESSIONALS TO CREATE A CHILD-LED SUPPORT PLAN
It’s important to try to maintain good relationships with school, parents and children to help find out what is wrong and work together to find solutions. It is important that everyone works together as fully as possible to create an effective support plan.
Health professionals can advise schools on developing support plans that should be flexible, child-led and sympathetic to the features of anxiety disorders. Plans must be communicated to all staff, may need further relevant staff awareness and training.
Recovery can be a very slow process for many children and young people despite everyone’s best efforts. Keeping any lines of communication open helps them feel they are still a part of the school community. If they are welcomed rather than feeling criticised when they do attend the parts of school they can manage, they will feel more able to make small steps back into school.
Long-term recovery needs a focus on support and encouraging a child to enjoy other activities and friendships (not only those related to school) to help rebuild their self-esteem, confidence and feelings of happiness.
It is crucial to keep a diary of what happens day to day to build a picture of the problem and the steps that have been taken. Keep a file of notes you take at meetings and during phone calls, and keep copies of all emails and letters. Check that minutes of meetings are accurate.
Regularly ask to see the school attendance record for your child and check that absences are recorded correctly. Do they match your diary records where absences should have been authorised if medically related reasons or evidence were provided?
If you’re concerned about your child’s school records you can make a full ‘Subject Access Request’ (SAR) for a copy of all records held. Check through them carefully for accuracy and look for unauthorised absences or gaps in the paperwork, and ask for them to be corrected. This evidence will be crucial if any legal proceedings occur and/or if you apply for an EHCP.
Advice on Why Your Data Matters
SELF-CARE AND SUPPORT
School refusal and related conditions and difficulties can be very stressful for parents and can affect the whole family. It is likely that few people around you will have experienced what your child and your family are going through but ask for help if you can.
Please remember that you are not alone. We hope you can find support through NFIS and other online support groups, and perhaps find local groups too. Remember to seek medical advice & support for your own health if necessary. Employment can be a problem – please seek advice regarding Work and Benefits from Citizens Advice Bureau.