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14 Feb

School refusal: what to do if your child isn’t coping in a mainstream education setting

School refusal: what to do if your child isn’t coping in a mainstream education setting

If your child is experiencing anxiety around going to school, we understand that it can create a lot of stress for both them and your family. Whether they’re having problems with behaviour, socialising, learning, having their needs met, or other areas of school attendance, we can help you understand more about what to do next.

School avoidance may look like expressing being upset over going to school, needing to be persuaded into school, being entirely absent, or going to school then leaving at some point before the day ends. When the situation has progressed to the point of school refusal, it would be beneficial to look into the reasons behind this and seek outside support.

Whether your child has an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) or social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs, we’ve outlined key areas to consider and steps to take when supporting them with school refusal.

School refusal assessment scale

The school refusal assessment scale can help with understanding your child or teenager’s reasons for wanting to avoid school. It is a set of questions designed to understand a child’s problems, symptoms and motivations around attending school. It can also help to uncover any mental, emotional or behavioural challenges.

The scale contains 24 questions, which you can complete at your own discretion by sourcing one of the many documents online. You may wish to consult with your child on the answers. If you can get them to communicate with you on where their worries arise from, the better the picture you can form of their overall wellbeing. This will also help to identify external factors such as bullying, or any issues with teachers or environments.

You can then pass on the results of this to your child’s school, to work together in forming the most optimal plan for them. Under the Children and Families Act 2014, schools are obligated to support in identifying any special educational needs your child may have.

Autism and school refusal

Studies have shown increased risks of school refusal for students with autism. If a child with autism is refusing to go to school, it can stem from a number of factors.

Autism and school refusal can look like them becoming withdrawn and perhaps staying in their bedroom, continuing to struggle with engaging inside the family home. It is common for autistic children to find it more difficult to form friendships with classmates, feeling alienated and rejected from other peers. It may also be that their needs are not being met, as the curriculum hasn’t been designed around their sensory processing or cognition.

In the case of high functioning autism and school refusal, a child or teenager may experience more difficulties with communication and emotional expression, over intellectual challenges at school. If they are not coping, it can arise from them experiencing anxiety and stress over the thought of attending school.

Helping a withdrawn child needs to start with talking to them and showing empathy, as well as being respectful of their needs and their level of independence, particularly if they are in their teenage years. You can also speak to their Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) to highlight problems and work together on solutions.

Advice if your teenager has been excluded from school

Children with special educational needs (SEN) may exhibit disruptive behaviour in the classroom because they’re in the wrong environment. Teenage behaviour problems can also often include challenging behaviour in schools, as they develop their identities and find their voice.

If your child has been excluded from school, you can liaise with the SENCo to find out what has been happening and what can be done to support your child. Only a headteacher of a school, or teacher leading the referral unit, can exclude children, and only for disciplinary reasons relating to their behaviour, not for reasons directly relating to any shortfall of the school.

So while this may be distressing, an exclusion could be an opportunity to make positive change with the right support, having reached the stage of involving senior representatives. It could mean that an issue is highlighted that the school wasn't aware of, in how they can better support students with special educational needs.

Children, especially at a young age, need routine, structure and stability, so in order for them to thrive it is important to find the most suitable school for their requirements. You will need to keep an open mind about where they will attend. Suggested schools may not be somewhere you considered or preferred, but if it means they could be happier and more fulfilled, it is worth exploring.

School refusal interventions: what to do next

You can request a meeting with school representatives to find out more about your child’s school refusal. Liaising with their teacher, SENCo and senior management will help you form more of an understanding of what is happening, along with the available support and recommended course of action. They will have seen this happen before and may have experience with reaching positive conclusions, which can help you to move forward with peace of mind and optimism.

Whether your child is disruptive, withdrawn or not engaging, you may choose to start the journey of looking at alternative schools. There is already a potential impact of speech, language and communication difficulties on the overall development of a child with autism, so we know that you’ll want them to attend somewhere they feel more confident, with full support.

In this case, you can ask for help from the school and local authority in creating an Education, Health and Care Plan, also known as an EHCP. This is designed to help you identify the best education setting for your child’s individual needs and potentially secure the required funding. If your child already has an EHCP, it can be revisited and amended to identify a more suitable school.

The journey to moving schools can be complex and may take some time, so in the meantime it can be beneficial to support your own wellbeing by speaking with parents who’ve had similar experiences. If you don’t know of anyone, forums such as Mumsnet can be a great place to start in finding a supportive group of parents with wide-ranging experiences and similar stories.

Professional support for your child

At Aspris Children’s Services, we offer safe and nurturing environments where your child can develop in a supportive setting, among children with similar needs. We know you want your child to be happy, engaged and confident, flourishing in their education, which is our biggest priority. We offer tailored packages for each individual child, as we understand that no child is the same and has their own unique set of requirements, whether they have autism or social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs.

Our specialist schools and colleges across the UK include a wide-ranging curriculum and a number of different therapeutic approaches, as part of our supportive environments. As every child’s needs are different, we do our utmost to support them and will bring in therapists to provide a particular service, if one doesn’t already exist onsite. For example, some children flourish from play therapy, while other children and teenagers might thrive from cookery classes or gardening.

If you’d like more information about Aspris Children’s Services, you can chat to our helpful team or request a brochure. We can also give you information on one of our open days, so that you and your child can visit one of our settings and get a feel for them. Contact us on 0330 056 4467 or complete our online enquiry form.