Parents being penalised for children who miss school due to ‘debilitating’ anxiety
Fran Morgan, founder of support organisation Square Peg, warned that a “tsunami” of school anxiety cases is “on the horizon”, but the issue has been incorrectly labelled as “school refusal”.
School anxiety can manifest in a number of ways. Pupils may show they’re anxious when they don’t want to get up and get ready for school, get very worried about relatively small issues, feel sick or have stomach aches or headaches, don’t complete schoolwork or get lower marks, generally withdraw, or lash out when they get home.
Local councils and schools can enforce school attendances by taking legal action against parents if their child is missing school, which includes fines and prosecution.
But Morgan told the BBC that pupils who experience school anxiety “physically can’t” go to school.
“It’s not about refusal, it’s not a child that won’t do something. It’s about a child that physically can’t," ela disse.
“It’s a debilitating level of anxiety which prevents attendance and the consequences to families are catastrophic.”
Another support group, Not Fine In School, found its membership growing by nearly 50 per cent to 17,925 parents over the year to September 2021.
Beth Bodycote, who founded the group four years ago, said many schools were adopting a stricter approach to attendance despite increasing numbers of children and young people struggling with mental health problems.
Data from the NHS published last year showed rates of probable mental health disorders in five to 16-year-olds have risen from one in nine in 2017 to one in six in July 2020.
Bodycote told the BBC: “Fines and court action remain a threat for many parents even though these punitive actions do nothing to resolve the underlying cause of absence from school.
“There needs to be a move away from strict blanket policies about attendance and behaviour, to adopt a much more flexible and child-led approach, especially for children and young people who are struggling.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “In exceptional circumstances, head teachers have discretion to authorise absence – and fines should only be used as a last resort.
“Where a pupil does not attend, the school, family and council should work together to agree a plan for attendance, because the classroom is the best place for their education, development and wellbeing.”