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Anxiety and school refusal

What can parents do if their child suffers such high levels of anxiety that they find it difficult to attend school?

The most important thing is to ask for help from professionals in and out of school as soon as problems start to emerge. Schools have a legal duty to monitor and enforce good attendance. This means that, if they don’t know the circumstances, they might consider fining you for your child’s non-attendance or start court proceedings.

Make sure that school staff are aware of your child’s anxiety and how this affects their attendance. The school should work with you to agree an action plan, which should include review meetings. This might be a My Plan.

You should also involve your GP early on. Your GP can refer your child to mental health support, such as Door 43 or CAMHS (see article How to access health services). You may also need medical evidence to avoid being fined or prosecuted for your child’s non-attendance.

Multi-Agency Support Teams (MAST) can help families with school attendance issues and provide early mental health support.

All schools have access to Educational Psychology support.

If your child’s anxiety is related to a known special educational need, then the relevant Local Authority support team (Autism Education Team, Vision Support Service, Service for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children) can help.

Alongside informing professionals, you should also document everything so that any possible court action regarding your child’s attendance may be challenged.

Parents have a duty to ensure their child receives an education, but if this duty is being affected by other factors, they are well within their rights to request support from the school. If this support is not forthcoming, you may want to contact SENDIAS or self-refer to MAST.

Specialist support

The Becton Home and Outreach Team (formerly known as Home and Hospital Education Service) works with children and young people whose education is affected by health issues (including mental health issues). Access to support from the team presumes that parents have already sought support and advice from a medical consultant or CAMHS and the referral provides evidence of this. Getting the necessary appointments for these can take some time. Therefore, when a child begins to refuse to attend, parents should raise the issue as soon as possible with school and any relevant SEND support teams.

The Becton Hospital and Outreach Team do educate children at home if there is a medical reason which prevents them being out of the home; for example, if they are immune suppressed. Otherwise support is provided in small groups settings. The Outreach Team will work with children until the child is ready to reintegrate back into school, but they do not offer permanent schooling.

Educating at home

If you feel that you may need to home educate your child due the problems they are experiencing, seek advice before you take your child of the school’s roll. Venetta Buchanan, Advisory Teacher for Elective Home Education (tel 0114 2037790) is available to talk you through the process and can also attend meetings in school to try to reduce the incidents of parents feeling they have been forced down this pathway.

Remember that your child cannot be taken off roll without your permission, and you should not be persuaded to do so.

When parents take on the responsibility to provide a full-time education, they do so with the understanding that they will be expected to provide for the needs of their child. If the child has an EHC Plan, SENDSARS (Special Educational Needs and Disability Statutory Assessment and Review Service) remains involved but the responsibility for making the special educational provision now falls on the parent.

Please be aware that some services, such as Educational Psychology and other inclusion teams, are services to schools and are not ordinarily available to children who are home educated. If your child has an EHC Plan, however, they might be involved in the annual review if you think this is relevant.

Last reviewed: 05/07/2019

Information owner: Educational Psychology Service and Advisory Teacher for Elective Home Education

Last Updated: 08/07/2019
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