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My child refuses to go to school: What can I do?

Back to school stress: How to avoid it

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‘Help! My child refuses to go to school’ – if that’s a problem you face then rest assured that at some point, most children will occasionally try to wriggle out of going to school. We all know the anxiety of trying to decide whether a child is truly ill, or just trying it on.

Force your son or daughter to school, and it’s guaranteed that by mid-morning, the school nurse will be on the phone, calling you out of that important meeting because your little one has fainted or thrown up in assembly. But keep your child at home, and by lunch time they are bound to have made a miraculous recovery and to be complaining of boredom when all you can think about is getting on to your laptop in order to try and keep your job. Take heart – even the most experienced parent can and does get this one wrong, time and time again.

Is it becoming an issue?

But what if your child’s school refusal appears to be more serious? Perhaps it has become a pattern for them to start mysterious stomach pains or headaches every Sunday evening. Or, if your child is older, you might simply find out from the school itself that they haven’t been turning up, for individual lessons or whole days, and you have been in blissful ignorance. Now you really have got a problem on your hands.my child refuses to go to school

What’s the problem?

First and foremost, you need to try and find out what the problem is. Children who persistently find ways to miss school may be avoiding something that scares them. No matter how anxious you are, try to keep calm and talk it over. Is it possible that your child is being bullied? We all remember how cruel children can be towards anyone that they perceive as being different – and ‘difference’ can boil down to the wrong clothes or hairstyle. Or maybe it is not the other pupils that are a problem, but a teacher. Some can unintentionally come across as frightening or critical, and this might be worrying your child.

Moving up to comprehensive can be a particularly difficult time, when children leave behind the smaller, cosier primary setting for a new environment in which more is expected of them and teachers can appear intimidating.

Older children who truant, though, may not be reacting to anything negative within the school, but may simply be responding to peer pressure. There is a group within every school year which thinks that truanting is cool, and maybe your child has fallen in with that crowd and copied the behaviour to avoid being excluded.

I can’t sort it out myself – where can I get help?

If the problem is one that you just can’t solve, then you will need to approach the school for help. That may be a worrying prospect, and your child may beg you not to do it, especially if they are being bullied. But remember that schools deal with these kinds of problems on a daily basis, and will have tried and tested strategies in place. Many comprehensives now offer peer support or mediation schemes, in which older pupils help younger ones with problems; this can be a particularly effective means to tackle bullying, without a heavy handed adult approach.

If your child’s behaviour continues, the school may refer matters to the Education Welfare Service. This is a worrying thought, but in actual fact, Education Welfare Officers have long experience in dealing with truancy and school avoidance. They understand that problems such as bullying can be a factor and they may have useful suggestions. They will also have links to other agencies, which may be able to help get to the bottom of the problem, such as Educational Psychology.

Legal responsibilitiesmy child refuses to go to school

If you cannot get your child to school and you don’t approach either the school itself or the local education authority for help, you may be issued with a penalty notice of £50, which rises to £100 if it’s not paid within 28 days. If you don’t pay the penalty, you’ll be prosecuted. You can get a fine up to £2,500, or, in extreme cases, a jail sentence of up to three months.

There are also various orders available to the Courts, such as a Parenting Order, which means that you will have to go to parenting classes and also to do whatever else the court says to improve your child’s school attendance. An Education Supervision Order, meanwhile, is used when the Local Council thinks that you need support getting your child to go to school but you’re not co-operating with it.

Remember, though, that legal measures are a last resort, and will only be considered when all efforts have been made to work with you and solve the problem. There is help out there, so don’t be afraid to use it.




About Paula Hendry

About Paula Hendry

Paula Hendry is a freelance consultant in the field of social work. She has been a social worker for twenty five years, and specialises in mental health. Paula has two children and writes in her spare time (which is virtually non-existent.)

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