school Refusal

Does anyone have any experience with children who may be on the spectrum going through school refusal. My son is 13 and should have started High School 3 weeks ago but has so much anxiety he can’t leave the house to get there.

More common than you think. What discussions have you had with his school. Is your son able to articulate what his feelings are. What he feels may happen/fears etc. Schools are well adapted in such situations. And many things can be put in place to seek a smooth transition. At the moment Is your son doing any online lessons. How would your son get to school if he attended.
Is there a problem on how he is expected to get there. Is there a social media problem that needs addressing looking into.

I have had one meeting with the head of year who told me it was illegal for them to give him online work and I should consider home schooling. I have another meeting tomorrow with the SEN lead.

No social media issues.

His fear is around the crowds and toilets, the one day he did go the toilets were locked. But apart from that he can’t tell me why he is scared. I think he just has a fear of people looking at him. If he were to go then I would take him so no issues there either. Multiple days he has got to the gates and then freezes and can’t get out of the car.

head of year who told me it was illegal for them to give him online work
How unhelpful and totally unacceptable and at a later consider raising a compliant. Your son is displaying social anxiety so this needs still to be met. Your son still has a right to education which can be administrated in many different ways. The fact your son has managed to reach the school gates multiple times is showing he is willing to try to attend school. The toilet issue needs to be readdressed with the school. This would have caused your son a major set back. He has to be able to rely on all the adults around him and he was let down. No wonder he is anxious.

Does your son wear eye glasses. If he doesn’t you can get tinted glasses without prescription lenses. It would be interesting to see if he would engage on wearing some. Which might help him see them as a coping/barrier mechanism between seeing/looking at other.

See if you can ask your son what does he feel when others look at him. What does he think will happen if someone looks at him.

Tomorrow don’t be fob off stand your ground.
Let’s us know what happens.

Hi Nicola,
It sounds to me as if the school aren’t even trying/ prepared to try- the fact they are suggesting home schooling at such an early stage sounds like a cop out to me.

I hope the SEN lead is more helpful than the head of year - who quite frankly needs additional training.

As you suspect he has autism, are you seeking a diagnosis? Are there any other professionals involved?


Talk to IPSEA.
Have you raised this at a higher level?
Your son needs to be in a school.
Under some circumstances an LA will fund a private school.
If you approach Education about this, they may well lean heavily on the existing school.
The suggestion of home schooling is ridiculous!

Nicola - I used to work as a Teaching Assistant in a Secondary school. There were a group of students who could not face going in to certain lessons due to anxiety. I know how difficult this is. My job was to try to encourage them to go in to a lesson and sometimes I would sit with them in the classroom.
If the student had been absent for awhile then the school would work out a much shorter timetable for them. Eg find out what there favourite lesson was and ask them to come in for just that lesson. Then - assuming this lesson had been successful - the school would gradually add more lessons to their timetable (over a period of time).
Another issue was break time. The students found break time a problem so the school gave them a room they could come to during break/lunch times.
I wonder if a shorter timetable would help your son?

Does the school have some sort of written prospectus for potential new students?
Is there a special needs policy?
Does your son have a care plan?

As someone said previously, school ‘refusal’ is more common than most people assume. My youngest had a short spell of refusal in Y7 and then began serious refusal in Y9. He was given absence on medical grounds, because he had a diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder. My eldest stopped attending school formally when he went into a CAMHS unit at 15.

We had assumed that it was not possible for children to go without education in this country, but we were wrong. The LA sent a series of home tutors for my youngest. He locked himself in the bathroom and perhaps engaged for 30 minutes of the five hours a week of education they provided. In Y11, he went to a PRU for half a day a week and sat two GCSEs, to his credit, he came out with grade ‘2’ in maths and English, but that is useless for employment.

My eldest son attended some education in the CAMHS unit, but one of the teachers said (in confidence) that he spent most of his time 'in his own world) (he had psychosis and autism).

My sons are now 20 and 22 and really, formal education stopped for them as soon as they stopped attending school. I just hope that they will engage a little in community education at some time.

This personal anecdote may not seem helpful to someone who is working with a child who cannot attend school, but I feel it is important to realise that sometimes we really do have to fight for our children’s right to a purposeful education. I feel I did not fight hard enough with my youngest. Both my sons had (and probably still have) EHCPs and I feel I should have demanded more emergency reviews. Please investigate alternatives because, as stated above, it is easy for children to slip through the cracks in the system.

Janet how useful and informative I am sure this will help Nicola and her son.
Thank you for contributing to this thread.
The more we can help to support, signpost and empower people the better.

Thank you for all your replies.

So result of the meeting today:

He isn’t on the SEN register and can’t be on it as currently she has no evidence to suggest his learning is impacted, this may change in October with their next lot of assessments which will prove he isn’t there to learn

When I get the referral to CAMHS I must not mention he is being referred for Autism as he will be rejected

They still cannot provide any online learning for him as the D of E have said no online learning now for children off sick and technically he is off sick. A reasonable adjustment cannot be made for him to do this as reasonable adjustments can only be made in school.

Attendance officer has referred back to the local authority as he has been off for 10 or more days so maybe they will help.

It would be pointless to go down the route of an EHCP as he has anxiety over the way he looks and no amount of education help will get him over that anxiety.

Oh Nicola

Thanks for coming back to give an update. How are you feeling?
Are you aware of

which will prove he isn’t there to learn

What does this mean?

When I get the referral to CAMHS I must not mention he is being referred for Autism as he will be rejected

. I don’t understand the above. Were you support by anyone this morning in the meeting. If not I feel you need an independent advocate to assist you.


The statements that you received from the meeting are , in my opinion, excuses for authorities to do nothing. Someone mentioned IPSEA and our children’s right to education. Please try to get some advice from them. I can also remember services for education (I think one was called Red Balloon) which offered online learning. The school could be providing off site learning and certainly remote learning opportunities.

Education is important. My sons not only missed out on vital education, but they missed out on peer support, careers advice (which I know is not the responsibility of the school, but study choices and career goals are talked about). Their behavioural issues escalated through social isolation. Now my youngest dare not contact any of his old school friends because they have been to college, university, got jobs and so on. He is still stuck. His self esteem could not be lower.

Although my youngest son refused assessment, it is very likely he has PDA and I found the PDA UK website very helpful. Unfortunately, I did not access it until he was well and truly disenfranchised from the education system.

Our crisis happened seven years ago, and I suspect, with the pandemic and even more stretched resources, that the tendency to fob parents off with unacceptable excuses for lack of action is even worse than it was when my sons were school age.

No someone from an external support group had offered to come with me, but unfortunately she had another meeting that clashed so I was by myself.

The school attendance officer said she had emailed the LA as he hadn’t been in school for 10 days plus and they may be able to do more. I will give IPSEA a call and discuss things with them, I have previously spoken with SENDIASS. The attendance officer said before covid his attendance was in the 97 - 99% range so she could see Covid was the cause. It makes me think that because it is the cause, it is also now the reason they are using it as an excuse not to help more with his learning.

I have emailed my local MP to see if she can provide clarity on the law regarding online learning from the Department of Education.

I’m not sure “Covid IS the cause”!

I think the point the school are making is that before lockdown attendance was fine. We have no way of knowing if this would have happened if we hadn’t had two spells of home schooling or not.

I’m generally regarded as a very “down to earth” person, but I really don’t want to mix too much with the rest of the human race at the moment. All the certainties of my life seem to have changed, and I really feel safer at home, doing all those odd jobs that never get done.
Almost 2 years of Covid uncertainty is a huge chunk of a teenager’s life, I would have expected the school to be understanding and reassuring, making a real effort to help all pupils settle back into school life. Don’t they have any sort of counselling service?

I was told they have a wellbeing coordinator but if he is referred to CAMHS they don’t do both. Also he has to be in school for this. Honestly it feels like everything I ask they close the door. Only help available is if he is in the school

And sorry should have added I am sorry about your difficulties x