10,000 signatures reached
To: Gavin Williamson
Stop treating school 'refusal' as truancy
Create a new legal attendance/absence code that will measure the scale of school refusal, ensure a consistent school response and alleviate parents from the threat of prosecution.
Why is this important?
School refusal (sometimes known as school phobia or emotionally based school avoidance) is usually characterised by off-the-scale anxiety. It can result from any number of underlying issues including bullying, an undiagnosed/unsupported Special Educational Need or Disability (SEND) or a mental health problem. Whilst the underlying issue can present significant challenges in itself, the resulting school refusal leaves families in crisis. A new 'holding' code would start to measure the scale of this growing problem. It would ensure a consistent approach across all schools, support children until their problems can be addressed and alleviate families from the threat of prosecution for 'unauthorised' absence.
The decision to authorise absence lies with individual schools who are governed by legal duties, attendance targets and Ofsted goals as well as pupils' wellbeing. None of the current 23 attendance codes allows for a holding stage while the cause of school refusal is explored and appropriate support provided. Without medical proof that a child is unfit for school, absence is therefore often unauthorised and classed as truancy, a prosecutable offence. Budget cuts, increased testing, delays in SEND assessments, higher thresholds for mental health support and difficulties securing and implementing Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs – which replaced the previous Statements of Educational Need), are all compounding the problem.
Whilst there is no official data on school refusal at present, the rise in home education, prosecutions and permanent exclusions are all indicators of a significant problem. A national Facebook group, Not Fine in School (NFIS) which launched in November 2017 now has over 4,800 members (February 2019) and growing at a rate of 350-400 new members every month. August 2020 update: this group now has nearly 12,000 members in its closed Facebook Group for parents, and was growing at a rate of 600-800pm pre-pandemic.
The results of a NFIS survey which ran in March 2018 and was completed by 1,661 families showed that:
• 92% of parents thought that their child’s school attendance difficulties were related to undiagnosed/unsupported SEND
• Despite this, 20% had been told not to bother applying for an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP) and a further 20% did not know what an EHCP was
• 55% parents were blamed for their child’s attendance issues
• 25% parents were reported to Social Services because of their child’s poor attendance
• 18.4% of parents had been accused of fabricating or influencing their child’s illness (also known as FII or Munchausen’s Syndrome By Proxy)
• 67% had been put under pressure to force their child into school, yet 59% said this had made the situation worse
A new attendance code is only part of the story, and must be supported by comprehensive research, successful school refusal response plans and national guidance.