What To Do If Your Child Is Refusing To Go To School
If your child is refusing to go to school, here is our advice and information on what you can do and where you can get help.
How can I help my child?
When children completely refuse to go to school, extreme fear and anxiety often a big reason why. This is why school refusal is also known as ‘school phobia’. Your child might be feeling overwhelmed with anxiety about schoolwork, relationships with friends or teachers. They might have low self-esteem, or be experiencing bullying and feel too afraid to talk about it.
Your child might be worried about things going at home, like a big life change, family breakdown mental illness or bereavement. This sort of life event can increase their worry that bad things will happen at home, while they are at school.
School refusal is usually accompanied by tantrums, physical complaints such as stomach aches, headaches, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, pleading or begging to stay at home and even threatening to harm themselves if you make them go to school.
This video has really useful advice and information from our Parents Helpline Team on what to do if your child won't go to school.
Here's a summary:
- Tackle it early – the longer anxiety about school persists, the deeper it becomes. Seek professional help, such as counselling, through the GP
- Talk to your child's school as soon as possible. Parents and teachers need to work together to support the child and reassure them that there is a way through and there may be things the school can do to help, like mentoring or agree flexible start times.
- A home-school book can be a good way of keeping communication going so that everyone is informed of what is happening in the other setting
- If you are unhappy with the way a member of staff is responding to your concerns, escalate to a more senior person; after that, write to the school governors; lastly the Local Education Authority (LEA) or Academy Trust.
- If bullying is a concern, the school will have an anti-bullying policy in place, which should be on its website but if not, ask to see a copy.
- Talk to your child, listen to their fears and respect their feelings. For younger children you could try to get them to put their worries into a 'worry box' and agree a small window of 'worry time' where they are allowed to worry. For older children try helping them find fun stress-busting activities like youth groups or sports.
- You could try talking to your employer about reasonable adjustments they might be able to make in order to help you.
Pupils who can’t attend mainstream school for a variety of reasons, including school refusal, are entitled to ‘high-quality, alternative learning provision’ known as Alternative Provision. Your local authority website should have information on what alternative provision is available in your local area.
If your child is bunking off school and hiding it from you, it could be because of some of the reasons listed above. Or they might just be bored and fed up with school, and not see the point in going. It can be a real shock to find out your child is not going to school, causing you to feel anger and worry, especially if they are showing other behavioural problems like aggression. It is really important that you encourage your child to go to school because if your attitude to school is negative it can rub off on your child.
Consequences of non-attendance
Parents must, by law, make sure their child gets a full-time education and will be held responsible if their child does not attend school regularly, whether through truanting, school refusing or taking term-time holidays. The main consequences for parents include:
- Penalties, including fines
- Being taken to court
- Their child being excluded
- Putting their own jobs in jeopardy, when they have to stay at home with their child
- Strain on their wellbeing and family life
Education Welfare Officers work closely with key staff in schools to identify and help sort out attendance problems. They meet parents and pupils at school or home to support pupils' regular school attendance and to reduce unnecessary absence and truancy and they explain legal responsibilities.
Where can I get help?
- Covers state funded education for children aged 5-16 years in England only.
- Comprehensive free info on exclusions, special educational needs, bullying, and more can be found on their website
- Information booklets can also be purchased here
- Adviceline for parents: 0300 0115 142 Mon-Wed 10:00 -13:00 (term time only)
- Supporting families with disabled children and children with additional needs in England and Wales. Information on EHC plans, SEN support, bullying, exclusions etc.
- Contact has a special educational needs national advice service.
- Freephone helpline: 0808 808 3555, Mon-Fri 09:30-17:00
- Email: [email protected]
- Facebook: facebook.com/contactfamilies
- Twitter: @contactfamilies
- Information about dyspraxia and support groups.
- Helpline: 01462 454986, Mon-Fri 09:00-13:00
- Email advice contact form
- Information, support and advice around dyslexia.
- Helpline: 0333 405 4567, Tue 10:00-13:00; Wed & Thu 10:00-15:00
- Email advice contact form
National Autistic Society – Education Rights Service
- Freephone helpline 0808 800 4102, Mon-Thu 10:0016:00; Fri 09:00-15:00
- Quick email contact: [email protected]
- Education Rights service: Information, support and advice on educational provision and legal entitlements across UK to help guide parents whose children have autism.
Child Law Advice (from Coram Children's Legal Centre)
- Provides free specialist advice and information to parents, carers and young people on education law in England.
- Phone support service: 0300 330 5485 Mon-Fri 08:00-18:00 (check eligibility details first here)
- Email contact form
- Website also provides a signposting list for callers outside of England.