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Refusal to attend school? - SEN


The Guardian recently published an article titled “Children are holding a mirror up to us’: why are England’s kids refusing to go to school?” addressing the worry children are facing returning to school and what is being done to encourage them back into the classroom. The article delves into whether returning to school is the best idea for our children. 

As the new school term begins some children are faced with the worry of returning to the classroom environment. Following multiple lockdowns and teaching strikes over previous years, school attendance has plummeted for children and young people. As it becomes increasingly more prevalent that children are worried about returning to the classroom, some are struggling to adjust to the classroom environment.

The children’s commissioner for England calculates that during the autumn and spring terms of 2021/22 over 800,000 children and young people did not attend school for reasons other than the usual illnesses. Many of these absences were children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) and they continue to be more likely to be persistently absent from school. 

A problem facing schools currently is an increase of children and young people suffering with anxiety leading to emotionally based school avoidance. Emotionally based school avoidance (EBSA) is a term that refers to reduced or non-attendance at school by a child or young person. The key feature is that the child or young person is unable to attend school due to emotional or wellbeing difficulties. The child or young person may feel overwhelmed, have tantrums or threaten to harm themselves if they are made to attend school. Children may feel too stressed by the school environment, ultimately leading to their self-esteem and well-being being impacted. 

It is becoming more common that children or young people are struggling to attend school because of anxiety or emotional difficulties associated with their SEND. Multiple lockdowns and isolation from society has not assisted as the percentage of children suffering with anxiety since the pandemic rises. Anxiety disorders affect around 5-19% of children and young people in the UK. 

Anxiety can have an unpredictable influence, it is therefore recommended that an assessment of the child or young person’s needs is required to establish their difficulties. It may be identified that the child or young person requires SEND additional support and/or an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) which will be crucial for a child to access education.

A child or young person’s school and Local Authority have a legal duty under the Children’s and Families Act 2014, to support families where the child or young person may have SEND. This essentially means that if a child or young person is struggling to attend school because of their SEND, their school and Local Authority should be reviewing and identifying appropriate support for the child’s SEND. This may be initiated using the ‘assess, plan, do review’ approach or via an EHC Needs Assessment undertaken by the Local Authority. If a child or young person already has an EHCP in place this may need to be reviewed via an annual review. It can be at this meeting that any new social, emotional or mental health needs that are not covered by the existing EHCP can be discussed and further investigated.

HCB Solicitors have supported SEND children and their families whereby the child or young person has been unable to attend school and access education as a result of an anxiety disorder. Our experienced Lawyers will be able to assist with supporting families secure an EHCP for children and young persons with special educational needs and disabilities, and specifically those suffering with heightened anxiety regarding the return to school. Alternatively if an EHCP is currently in place HCB can support and advise families at upcoming annual reviews.

In many cases, HCB has been successful in securing specialist provision such as small class sizes, social skills groups and therapeutic programmes within a child’s EHCP, all of which can assist children and young persons with the transition of returning to school. 

If you would like to talk to one of our specialist SEND Lawyers in relation to your specific circumstances, we offer a free initial consultation to discuss the best way to challenge the decision and how we might be able to assist you with this. Please therefore feel free to contact us on 0333 202 7175 or email