FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
LISTEN to your child and believe what they are saying. Try to talk to them about what is causing their anxiety and speak to their teacher/s to ask if there have been any issues or difficulties at school.
KEEP RECORDS – see the information here:
FOCUS ON GETTING MEDICAL EVIDENCE – You will need this to help protect you from prosecution
Visit your GP and explain the difficulties your child is experiencing and ask for the GP’s help, which could include;
- referring your child to CAMHS
- writing to the school to confirm that they suspect your child has an anxiety disorder and is currently medically unfit to attend school
- recommending that the school request the input of their Educational Psychologist
- documenting anxiety symptoms and any other difficulties in your child’s medical records (for evidence if needed)
Ask school to refer your child to the Educational Psychologist.
ASK FOR ADVICE IN OUR FACEBOOK SUPPORT GROUP, especially if:
- Social Services become involved
- Child Protection is mentioned
- Fabricating Illness & Injury (FII) is mentioned
Make posts about your situation and take advantage of the advice that is available from the many other parents who have been through the same difficulties, and are there to offer their support and understanding.
People always find it a comfort to feel less alone and to know there are other people going through the same things they are – we really understand how you feel!
REPORTING ABSENCE – The reason you give for absence is significant, there are subtle differences but they are important if you end up in court:
- ‘My child is being bullied’ = not an acceptable defense in law
- ‘I can’t get my child to school’ = not Ok
- ‘My child is refusing to go to school’ = not Ok (as it sounds like the child is making a choice and you are allowing them too)
- ‘My child is too unwell to attend’ = Ok, but you will need to gather evidence.
SPEAK TO THE SENCO and CLASS/FORM TEACHER – Ask how can they help? Have they noticed any issues? Does anyone think that your child may have a learning difficulty or SEN that needs investigating and supporting in school.
CHECK YOUR CHILD’S SCHOOL RECORDS – to see how non-attendance is being recorded & what is in your child’s files.
LOCATE COPIES OF YOUR SCHOOLS POLICIES and check they are being followed by the school. Focus on policies for ATTENDANCE, SEND, & COMPLAINTS. If they are not being followed ask why and consider making a complaint if necessary.
BE PRO-ACTIVE – ask for meetings and contact people who might be willing to help (including your GP, CAMHS helpline, School Nurse, Local MP, LA attendance team)
- Take independent witnesses with you to make notes and support you.
- Research your child’s and your own rights then quote best practise – refer to legal and statutory guidelines for schools.
- After meetings request copies of the minutes. If you don’t feel they are accurate ask for them to be amended.
- If a written record is needed write your own summary of the main points and anything agreed and email it to everyone involved for their approval and records.
CONTACT CHARITIES AND SUPPORT SERVICES (Check your council’s LOCAL OFFER to see if they list anyone who might be able to help). Including:
- SOS SEN
- YOUNG MINDS
- CHILDREN’S SOCIETY
- CITIZEN’S ADVICE BUREAU
Read our GUIDES for PARENTS & SCHOOLS and other RESOURCES and share them with the people you are in contact with.
Getting a child back into school is what parents and schools want and often, the child themselves wants to be in school but their anxiety is debilitating and preventing that, rather than a willful refusal to engage or comply. If parents and schools come together quickly to explore a child’s anxieties, take them seriously and act on them, putting all possible support in place, and allow the child to ease themselves back into school, the child will be back in education all the quicker. A few tips for schools that may assist this are:
The most important thing is to make sure that every member of staff is fully aware of the child’s difficulties, how to avoid making the anxiety worse, and to make sure that during any plans for a transition back into school are adhered to. Often reintegration’s failed when there is inconsistency, and someone wasn’t made aware of a child’s needs.
Having a designated ‘safe’ person. This should be someone the child chooses, a TA, pastoral team member etc, that the child trusts and has a rapport with. If they feel they have someone safe to go to at times of high anxiety they’re more likely to feel able to go and stay at school.
A ‘safe place’. Often children with anxiety like to have somewhere to escape to if they feel overwhelmed. This can be the office of someone they trust, a library, a quiet room, etc.
Give children a special card that they can show to a teacher that allows them to leave a classroom unquestioned. There should be a plan in place for where they go when they need to use it, but this also means that they don’t feel trapped in a class for an hour.
A buddy system in school. Using someone appropriate who is older or who has experienced something similar and can offer support to a child is a great way to show that it can get easier.
Give the child a ‘special’ role/job or appeal to their interests, ask them to help organise something etc, that gives them motivation and helps them associate school with something positive.
Arrange for the child to meet staff members that they may be more cautious around outside of normal school hours. Allowing anxious children to see teachers in a more relaxed way and allowing them to feel they know them more personally, helps them to experience teachers as individuals and children often feel more relaxed with that added element of security.
Allow the child to devise a timetable that builds gradually. This may start with just coming in for lunch for a week or for their favourite lesson but as long as it gradually builds at a child’s pace, progress is being made in the right direction.
Lastly and by no means least, consider that there may be other SEN that is causing the anxiety. Often children are diagnosed with SEN after being seen for anxiety. These SEN often involve significant sensorial difficulties that will need to be understood and addressed.
The number one rule of getting your child to go back to school is: DO NOT FORCE THEM. If a child has been ‘fine’ at school previously, it can be very difficult to deal with initially. It seems logical that if you just make them go, they’ll get over it, they’re just being silly etc. This is often where the opportunity to nip refusal/phobia in the bud is missed and the consequences can be a lot more serious and difficult to overcome in the long term. Usually, by the time school refusal starts, a child’s anxieties have been developing for some time and on reflection, parents often realise there were signs.
There is this deeply concerning the belief that forcing a child to ‘face their fear’ is the answer. I have personally sat across for a head of the pastoral team of my child’s school and been told that after a CAMHS run course on anxiety, she had been told the best thing you can do is force children into school, despite knowing my qualifications. This comes from the idea of ‘flooding’, where someone is exposed to their fear for an extended amount of time, in order for the fear to reach a peak, for the person to become exhausted and still be in that environment once they’re ‘calm’ again. Sounds very traumatic, doesn’t it? So of course, there are a number of issues with this.
It is not suitable for some phobias
It needs to be carried out by a qualified therapist
It is not very successful
It can make it worse and more worryingly, cause other severe mental health problems.
Adults who have this therapy at least make that decision themselves, in full knowledge of what they’re about to experience and few actually choose this option. When adults do this to children with anxiety, it can reinforce their fear, cause them to lose trust in those around them, and make going back to school an almost impossible task. As adults, were we to have someone treat us like this against our will, the perpetrator of such behaviour would be guilty of a number of crimes. Research is clear on this approach now and it has inadvertently been being used to get children back to school for many years. Without a qualified therapist doing extensive work with a child before trying flooding, it is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs.
Desensitisation is based on the idea that a person is gradually exposed to their fear. This is an effective technique, but it is widely misunderstood and wrongly interpreted. Again, this would ideally be carried out by a qualified therapist but even when steps such as a reduced timetable are introduced by a school and some compromise is made, they often fail. Why? – Because for desensitisation to work, the person with the phobia HAS TO BE IN CONTROL. This seems counterintuitive to adults, but the research is clear. Very small, incremental steps are made, sometimes even starting with just putting a uniform on for the first day and not even leaving the house. Every child is unique and they should be the ones to lead how much they can do each day. The longer a child has been out of school or the more serious the reasons, the longer it can take and the smaller the steps often need to be. Although time-consuming, this allows a child to build confidence again, learn to recognise and manage their anxiety and this is far more successful.
Unfortunately, some parents are pressured by schools or attendance officers to physically force attendance and the child and their parents often receive threats of fines and prosecution. It can be argued that a more productive and supportive approach would be to follow relevant legislation and to develop a better understanding of mental health difficulties. Anxious children can succeed if they are offered knowledgeable and supportive educational provision.
Both physical and mental illnesses are beyond our control, hence they are a statutory defence in the eyes of the law.
The Education Act 1996, section 444 3b clearly states:
The child shall not be taken to have failed to attend regularly at the school by reason of his absence from the school: […..] (b) at any time when he was prevented from attending by reason of sickness or any unavoidable cause…
As soon as possible you need to start keeping your own records and gather evidence to ‘prove’ the non-attendance is unavoidable and has a medical cause.
COLLECT MEDICAL EVIDENCE
OBTAIN LEGAL ADVICE
Explore your options for obtaining Legal Advice, including;
- Legal Aid
- Citizens Advice Bureau
- Home Insurance policies
- Recommendations from people in our Facebook support group
A school should trigger an EHC needs assessment where they cannot meet a child’s needs. They should do so if they don’t have the expertise or funding to identify those needs fully or to identify the provision/support the child requires. They should also do so when they know what the child’s needs are and what provision should be put in place, but they cannot make that provision. In these circumstances, if the school has made them aware of the situation, the LA must agree to carry out an EHC needs assessment.
Schools and other settings have clear duties under the SEN and Disability Code of Practice 2015 and must “have regard” to its contents. This means that they should do what it says or be able to explain why they have not done so and the alternative that has been put into place instead.
If your child doesn’t have an EHCP or Statement and the school is not listening or is uncooperative then the best course of action is for you to submit a parental request for an EHC needs assessment under section 36 (1) of the Children and Families Act.
The evidence for an EHCP does not have to be “collected” by the school.
A parent is perfectly entitled to submit a parental request under section 36.1 of The Children and Families Act 2014.
“A request for a local authority in England to secure and EHC needs assessment for a child of young person may be made to the authority by the child’s parent, the young person (over 16) of a person acting on behalf of a school or post 16 institution.”
The legal threshold for securing an assessment is exactly the same for both parents and schools.
What a parent needs to do is write the request to evidence how their child meets the legal threshold.
The legal threshold is section 36.8 of The Children and Families Act 2014.
‘The local authority must secure an EHC Needs assessment for the child or young person if after having regard to any views expressed and evidence submitted under subsection 7 the authority is of the opinion that:
- The child or young person has or may have special educational needs and
- It may be necessary for special educational provision to be made for the child or young person in accordance with an EHC Plan.’
So the child’s needs and difficulties need to be identified and described, so that they can be detailed in the EHCP application.
For each need:
- Say what the difficulty is (use the professional term if you know it)
- Describe the difficulty
- Say what the impact is for the child if there is no support put in place.
- Say why these needs cannot be met within the resources available in the school (complexity).
NOTE: A tip is to be aware of how to word things when you suspect a diagnostic condition but are not clinically qualified to put the label on yourself – you may want to add that to your template.
“By observation, ‘Jonny’ has difficulties with ‘xyx’ which are consistent with (whatever the need/difficulty is) and he needs further assessment by an appropriately qualified diagnostician. “
It is a good way of saying – I have noticed ‘xyz’ and the school is not qualified to assess to that level of specialist expertise – what are you going to do about it?
There are supporting local and national home education groups, run by home educating parents and carers, as well as websites for information and guidance as you explore your options.
Here are some resources to help you get started:
- Ed Yourself http://edyourself.org/
- EO – Education Otherwise https://www.educationotherwise.org
- Educational Freedom http://educationalfreedom.org.uk/
- Scotland – Schoolhouse http://schoolhouse.org.uk
- Ross Mountney’s Blog https://rossmountney.wordpress.com
- HE Exams http://he-exams.wikia.com/wiki/Idiots%27_Guide
- Home Educating our Special Needs Children https://www.facebook.com/groups/312513312123284/
- Learning Under the Trees https://www.facebook.com/groups/learningunderthetrees/
- Learning Begins in Wonder https://www.facebook.com/groups/learningbeginsinwonder/
- Home Education and your Local Authority: Help with dealing with officialdom https://www.facebook.com/groups/239232119524989/
You should not be under pressure from your child’s school to home educate. as there may be some support you could find harder to access if your child is no longer on a school roll. However, there are a growing number of families are deciding to home educate their children.
Elective Home Education is legal in all parts of the UK. In England and Wales Home education is given equal status with school education under section 7 of the Education Act 1996:
The parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive an efficient full-time education suitable a) to his age ability and aptitude, and b) any special educational needs he may have, either by attendance at a school or otherwise.
If your child attends a mainstream school you must write to the Head Teacher of the school informing them that you want to remove your child from their school roll. Keep evidence of the letter or email. The Head Teacher must immediately inform the Local Education Authority. If your child is at a special school you must inform the LEA of your intention. The LA will probably make contact to enquire about the education you plan to provide for your child (Obtain guidance from other home educating parents online about how to manage LA contact).
Social Services have a statutory duty to protect the welfare of children. Any professional who is concerned about a child’s safety and welfare has a responsibility to report their concerns to Social Services, who then have a duty to investigate these concerns. The criteria for abuse and neglect include school attendance difficulties, which can lead to parents of school refusers being investigated, especially where schools maintain that these children are fine in school.
School Refusal is a complex issue, with many children not yet diagnosed, or sufficiently supported with their health and SEN related attendance difficulties. Parents and families of school refusers have reported that they have been reported to Social Services for child protection concerns directly linked to school attendance and their children’s health conditions -including a growing trend of suspecting parents, particularly mothers, for Fabricating and Inducing Illness (FII). Quite often the suspicions surrounding these difficulties seem to arise due health and educational professionals not communicating with each other about a child’s needs. Neither are necessarily aware of each other’s procedures, whilst both health and education are under-resourced. There is also a worrying trend of schools not accepting medical and SEND diagnoses, or not assessing or adequately supporting the additional needs these children may have.
Are you being investigated by Social Services? Don’t panic, easy to say, but try not to – an investigation will not necessarily lead to child protection proceedings. It may be that you will be referred to Early Help or other support for your child and family.
If you are contacted by a social worker, be polite and cooperative, but also be careful that you explain the difficulties as factually as you can. You have a right to record visits and meetings. Ask a supportive friend, or family member to accompany you to all meetings.
We recommend you share our website and guides with schools and Social Services, and ask them to follow the guidelines produced by Not Fine in School. According to the government child protection guidance, assessments for SEND and mental health are recommended for children if they are being investigated under child protection.
Make sure your records relating to your child’s attendance, diagnoses and attempts to work with professionals, and requests for support are up to date, and filed.
Some parents may be more vulnerable to being misunderstood by professionals – parents with ASD or ADHD. Similarly, many parents of school refusers, those who are struggling to gain the necessary medical or SEND support for their children, and especially those with the extra pressures of Social Services investigations, may also have deteriorating mental health and may require additional support.
It is possible that a school, social workers and medical professionals will decide that your child or children are not at significant risk of harm, and will recommend a Child in Need plan to ensure the necessary support for your child’s needs to be met. (Section 17).
If your social worker informs you that a Child Protection Conference(Section 47) is being arranged, or other legal proceedings, contact experienced advice helplines, and if advised, seek legal advice as soon as possible, from a recommended solicitor, preferably one who has not worked for the LEA. Child protection should only apply to children who are at significant risk, and it is important that Social Services are aware of the facts and the complexity of school refusal.
The outcome of a Child Protection Conference could be a recommendation to form a Child Protection Plan, with a social worker assigned to the family; with follow up review conferences to assess outcomes of the plan – if the risks have reduced, they will agree to end the CP plan and to move to a CIN plan.
It is advisable to wait until investigations are completed and resolved before making complaints – firing off emails and complaints is rarely helpful, but if errors are made there are complaints procedures to follow.