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What the Government Say .........


School attendance and absence


You must make sure your child gets a full-time education that meets their needs (eg if they have special educational needs). You can send your child to school or educate them yourself.

Children must get an education between the school term after their 5th birthday and the last Friday in June in the school year they turn 16.

If your child is unexpectedly missing from school and the local council thinks you’re not giving them home education, you’ll be contacted by the school or the council’s educational welfare officer. They’ll contact you even if your child is only missing for a day.

You can be prosecuted if you don’t give your child an education. You’ll normally get warnings and offers of help from the local council first.

You can get education and attendance information from your council.

When your child can miss school

You can only allow your child to miss school if either:

  • they’re too ill to go in
  • you’ve got advance permission from the school

There’s extra support available if your child can’t go to school for long periods because of a health problem.

Illness and your child's education

There are minimum standards of education and support for children who can’t go to school because they’re ill or injured.

If your child can’t go to school

If your child can’t attend because of illness or injury, your school and local council will provide support to make sure their education doesn’t suffer.

The school’s role

The school should:

  • have a policy and person responsible for pupils who can’t go to school for health reasons
  • let the local council know if your child is likely to be away from school for more than 15 working days
  • give the local council information about your child’s needs and capabilities and a programme of work
  • help them reintegrate at school when they return
  • make sure they’re kept informed about school events and clubs
  • encourage them to stay in contact with other pupils (eg through visits or videos)

The local council’s role

If your child’s going to be away for a long time, the local council will make sure they get as normal an education as possible. This could include arranging:

  • home teaching
  • a hospital school or teaching service
  • a combination of home and hospital teaching

Local councils should have a senior officer in charge of the arrangements and a written policy explaining how they’ll meet their responsibilities.

The local council is also responsible for making sure your child:

  • isn’t without access to education for more than 15 working days
  • has access to education from the start of their absence if it’s clear they’re going to be away from school for long and recurring periods
  • gets an education of similar quality to that in school
  • gets their minimum entitlement of 5 hours teaching per week, as long as their health allows

Click HERE for the Government Website which displays all of this information

Single mother finds herself at Cambridge Magistrates' Court after Son "Willfully" refused to attend Cambridge School

Written by - ELEANOR DICKINSON (Cambridge News) CLICK HERE

A single mother, accused of not making her troubled son of attending school, was cleared by magistrates last week.

A court heard how the 50-year-old mum had to physically drag her 15-year-old son to a Cambridgeshire secondary school after the child refused to attend.

She was found not-guilty of failing to get her child to attend regularly by Cambridge Magistrates’ Court on 3 January.

The court heard how the boy – who cannot be identified for legal reasons – had an attendance rate of just 52.6 per cent between September 2012 and May 2013, more than 30 per cent lower than the expected rate of 85 per cent.

Arguing that he was unable to attend due to medical grounds, the court heard that the mum had struggled with getting him to school since the age of 6, and that the boy had suffered from low moods, social withdrawal, dyslexia and had displayed aggressive behaviour when at the school.

He was also said to be undergoing tests for autism.

His mother, a former paediatric nurse, who now works as a care home manager, said: “I have been focused for years on this. I have changed my job and done everything asked of me to get him to school.

“I have carried him into school and dragged him. Teachers have carried him into school. He has run in front of cars in order to not go.

“But, he is a big now and I cannot carry him in anymore. I cannot force him.”

Shahin Ismail, prosecuting for Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “Under the Education Act of 1996, if a child fails to attend school regularly, the parent can be guilty from no fault of their own, unless it is due to sickness or an unavoidable cause can be proved.

“The prosecution says there is not clear medical evidence for this. He has never being given a diagnosis of autism and the issues he has are not unheard of in children of his age.

“Lower moods and social withdrawal do not prevent a child from getting a regular education.”

Hywel Griffiths, defending, said since September 2013, he had called for the trial to be adjourned and argued that court had not given enough time for medical assessments to be done.

He said: “The boy has a severe phobia of going to school.

“He suffers from extreme anxiety at the start of each school day. His mother has sought help from both the family GP and from a specialist at the Brookside Family Consultation Clinic.”

Mr Griffiths added that the boy’s attendance had risen to 76 per cent since the start of the school term last year.

The mother was found not guilty of the offence.

Chief magistrate Dr Tessa Kilvington-Shaw said: “Your son’s willful refusal, exacerbated by his mental health issues, proved to be an unavoidable cause for his absence.”

One fifth of British children suffer from 'school phobia' but half of parents are unaware of the problem


By Mario Ledwith


PUBLISHED: 08:27, 19 February 2013 | UPDATED: 09:40, 19 February 2013

  • Children aged five to six and 10 to 11 most likely to suffer from the condition
  • Results in children not wanting to attend school due to emotional distress
  • Sufferers often fake illnesses on school mornings or suffer genuine stress
  • Being bullied was the most common trigger of the phobia, claim parents
  • Poll carried out by Netmums and This Morning questioned 1,054 parents

Distress: A study, carried out by This Morning and Mumsnet, found that one in five British children suffers from 'school phobia', whereby children refuse to go to school due to emotional distress (stock image)

One in five British children suffers from 'school phobia' - but only half of parents are aware of the condition.

Children with the condition refuse to go to school due to emotional distress, but more than a third of schools do not address the issue.

Research found that one in 25 parents of those children who experience difficulty attending school have been accused of allowing their child to play truant.

Children aged five to six and 10 to 11 are most likely to be hit by the phobia, but there parents have experienced a lack of information.

Just 52 per cent of the 1,054 parents polled by This Morning and the parenting website Netmums were aware of the condition.

The condition often manifests itself in children faking illnesses on school mornings, used by 58 per cent of children who suffer.

A further 46 per cent became ill with genuine stress-related headaches and stomach aches, while half were 'very worried and distressed' the night before school.

More than a third of children with school phobia refused to leave the house on school mornings, and one-in-four would not walk through the school gates.

Among older children suffering, one in 50 say they are going to school but then do not turn up, while five per cent went into school for registration then left.

Being bullied was the most common cause of school phobia, with parents claiming it was the trigger behind almost a quarter of cases.

A further 23 per cent were caused by kids feeling they were not performing well enough at school while 19 per cent said their child was 'overwhelmed' by the size of their school.

This Morning agony aunt Denise Robertson added: 'I suffered badly from it and one of my sons did too. It is still a much misunderstood condition and causes a lot of unhappiness, as I know from my postbag.'

Triggers: Being bullied was the most common cause of school phobia, with parents claiming it was the trigger behind almost a quarter of cases

But despite the widespread occurrence of the condition, parents are struggling to cope due to a lack professional help.

Only 48 per cent of parents had assistance from the school to help their child overcome the condition, while just one in 11 managed to obtain counselling for their child.

Instead, 20 per cent of parents resorted to waiting with their child in school every day until they settled, while 53 per cent talked through the issues at home until their child was more able to face school.

However, one in 16 parents move their child to another school in a bid to overcome it while one in 50 took the more radical step of home schooling their child.

Just three in 10 children who have been hit by school refusal have recovered completely, with 45 per cent of parents saying they still have problems getting their children to school.

Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard said: 'School refusal is a devastating condition that blights the lives of both parents and children.

'It's incredibly stressful for parents to watch their children suffer and horrible for the children involved.

'There needs to be more awareness so schools realise these are not 'problem children' intent on truanting but pupils who have a deep-seated emotional fear of going to school.

'Schools and parents must do all they can to work together and ensure children are helped and supported so they don't miss vital months or years of schooling.'


The American Family Physician says.....

School Refusal in Children and Adolescents

WANDA P. FREMONT, M.D., State University of New York Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York

Am Fam Physician. 2003 Oct 15;68(8):1555-1561.

Patient Information Handout

School refusal is a problem that is stressful for children, families, and school personnel. Failing to attend school has significant short- and long-term effects on children's social, emotional, and educational development. School refusal often is associated with comorbid psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression. It is important to identify problems early and provide appropriate interventions to prevent further difficulties. Assessment and management of school refusal require a collaborative approach that includes the family physician, school staff, parents, and a mental health professional. Because children often present with physical symptoms, evaluation by a physician is important to rule out any underlying medical problems. Treatments include educational-support therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, parent-teacher interventions, and pharmacotherapy. Family physicians may provide psychoeducational support for the child and parents, monitor medications, and help with referral to more intensive psychotherapy.

School refusal is a serious emotional problem that is associated with significant short- and long-term sequelae. Fear of going to school was first termed school phobia in 1941.1 An alternative term, school refusal, was used in Great Britain to define similar problems in children who did not attend school because of emotional distress.2 Children with school refusal differ in important ways from children who are truant (Table 1), although the behaviors are not mutually exclusive.


Criteria for Differential Diagnosis of School Refusal and Truancy

School refusal

Severe emotional distress about attending school; may include anxiety, temper tantrums, depression, or somatic symptoms.

Parents are aware of absence; child often tries to persuade parents to allow him or her to stay home.

Absence of significant antisocial behaviors such as juvenile delinquency.

During school hours, child usually stays home because it is considered a safe and secure environment.

Child expresses willingness to do schoolwork and complies with completing work at home.


Lack of excessive anxiety or fear about attending school.

Child often attempts to conceal absence from parents.

Frequent antisocial behavior, including delinquent and disruptive acts (e.g., lying, stealing), often in the company of antisocial peers.

During school hours, child frequently does not stay home.

Lack of interest in schoolwork and unwillingness to conform to academic and behavior expectations.


Approximately 1 to 5 percent of all school-aged children have school refusal.3 The rate is similar between boys and girls.4,5 Although school refusal occurs at all ages, it is more common in children five, six, 10, and 11 years of age.6 No socioeconomic differences have been noted.7

Clinical Features

The onset of school refusal symptoms usually is gradual. Symptoms may begin after a holiday or illness. Some children have trouble going back to school after weekends or vacations. Stressful events at home or school, or with peers may cause school refusal. Some children leave home in the morning and develop difficulties as they get closer to school, then are unable to proceed. Other children refuse to make any effort to go to school.

Presenting symptoms include fearfulness, panic symptoms, crying episodes, temper tantrums, threats of self-harm, and somatic symptoms8 that present in the morning and improve if the child is allowed to stay home (Table 2). The longer the child stays out of school, the more difficult it is to return.9


Somatic Symptoms in Children with School Refusal

Autonomic                Gastrointestinal      Muscular

Dizziness                    Abdominal pain        Back pain

Diaphoresis                Nausea                     Joint pain

Headaches                 Vomiting

Shakiness/trembling   Diarrhea


Chest pains

Short-term sequelae include poor academic performance, family difficulties, and problems with peer relationships.10 Long-term consequences may include academic underachievement, employment difficulties, and increased risk for psychiatric illness (Table 3).11,12


Long-Term Sequelae in Children with School Refusal


Interrupted compulsory school

Did not complete high school

Adult psychiatric outpatient care

Adult psychiatric inpatient care

Criminal offense

Still living with parents after 20-year follow-up

Married at 20-year follow-up

Number of children at 20-year follow-up


One or more











Boy with School Phobia Win Apology after Education Chief Tried to Prosecute Parents


UPDATED: 22:39, 9 June 2010

A judge has criticised education chiefs for pursuing a prosecution against a couple who allowed their son to skip classes because he had a 'school phobia'. The 16-year- old's condition was confirmed by his GP and a psychologist, who said attending lessons was 'highly anxiety-provoking' for him. But his parents were hauled before a magistrates' court where they faced a three-month jail term and £2,500 fine.

The court acquitted them and a special educational needs and disability tribunal later ruled that the case amounted to discrimination against the boy. Suffolk County Council appealed to a higher tribunal but has now been told it 'proceeded obdurately' against him and must send him a written apology.

Tribunal judge Christopher Ward said the council had 'closed its mind' by continuing with the prosecution in the face of expert advice. It should 'revisit its approach to such prosecutions' and other local authorities or schools should ' carefully consider' how they deal with such cases.

Afterwards the boy's father, who is a governor at his school and cannot be named for legal reasons, said: 'After all the heartache we have gone through this decision might change the county council and the schools and the way people like our son are dealt with. 'Hopefully the council will have been shaken up so that it will not keep prosecuting parents of children with these sorts of disabilities. 'We have a son who needed help and all they could do was go through their silly procedures.


Suffolk County Council was criticised by Upper Tribunal Judge Ward for prosecuting a couple who allowed their son to skip lessons because of his 'school phobia' 

'Instead of giving us help they made our lives very difficult.'

The boy, who attends a secondary school in East Suffolk, missed months of education after developing his phobia following time off school with a viral infection.

He said staff made sarcastic remarks when he tried to attend classes. Once when he asked where he should sit he was told 'on a chair'. He often refused to leave his house and had panic attacks. He also distanced himself from friends and social situations. The council decided to prosecute the parents despite their son's GP telling the school he had a genuine phobia and a child psychologist warning the council pursuing the case was worsening his condition.

South East Suffolk magistrates cleared the parents last June of failing to ensure their son attended school and said education bosses had failed to take proper account of his mental health.

The tribunal followed in November and ruled that the council had discriminated against the teenager. Suffolk council's decision to appeal against the ruling led to Judge Ward's decision.

It must send its apology, signed by council chairman Eddy Alcock, to the boy and his parents by June 18.

The school must also apologise for discriminating against a pupil by failing to make reasonable adjustments to his education.

The following report is by By Finlo Rohrer

BBC News Magazine and can be found at

A school is being asked to apologise to the family of a boy it prosecuted for truancy. The boy was diagnosed as having "school phobia", but what exactly is that?

Most adults can remember days when they vehemently didn't want to go to school.

There would be protestations of illness, and of the danger of passing on an unpleasant disease, before the eventual acceptance that the journey into school was inevitable.

So many might react with scepticism to the idea that there is such a thing as "school phobia".

But, says Nigel Blagg, author of School Phobia and Its Treatment, it is a condition that has been recognised since the 1960s.

"They will experience extreme anxiety. They are off school, typically with their parents' knowledge and approval. And they often have symptoms like tummy aches, head aches and nausea. Some of them suffer severely with depression.

"Any attempts to get them to school, when they are at their worst can lead to quite extreme behaviour - temper tantrums, screaming, kicking. It is very distressing for the adults."

The sceptics might of course want to bracket these children as truants, but, says Mr Blagg, a former local authority educational psychologist who now runs a private practice, they are quite distinct in background and behaviour.

"They are typically well behaved, socially conforming who are usually doing quite well. Normally they come from caring families.

"The truant group are the ones who [miss] school because they want to… often involved in delinquent behaviour."

Separation anxiety

It is thought the worst ages for school phobia are five to six and 11-14, says Mr Blagg. There are no precise numbers for how many children suffer the condition, but he notes one estimate is that 1% of children will have it at one point during their school careers

But the diagnosis is not without controversy, and even the term is subject to dispute, says Mr Blagg.

"In the psychological world the preferred term these days is school refusal. [But] school refusal doesn't convey the extreme distress, anxiety and panic, the physical symptoms that these children experience or the fact that it isn't a volitional state."

There is a recognition among psychologists and other education professionals that school phobia/school refusal covers a range of different problems.

Some of the younger sufferers can be diagnosed as having "separation anxiety", leaving them distressed at parting from their parents at the school gate. But some psychologists say this is more about refusal, not phobia - a true school phobic will experience a reaction even if their parents are present.

"Other children could be classified as having a social phobia to do with performance aspects of school - reading out loud or changing for PE," says Mr Blagg.


A day at school is not every child's idea of fun

Other children might be off sick for a prolonged period, fall behind with work and fall out of a routine. Some might simply have changed school and lost friends they relied on to feel secure at school. Still others may have had a single distressing experience.

Indulging children?

"More typically what you have is an accumulation of stresses to do with home and school that add up over time and cause the child to be anxious," says Mr Blagg.

"The avoidance leads to greater problems. They fall behind with school work. They worry what friends will say. The longer they are out the worse the problems get. If they are told they don't have to go they feel fine and the symptoms disappear."

Not only is there disagreement over the name for the condition, but also how to treat it, and whether it exists at all.

Sociologist Prof Frank Furedi, author of Wasted: Why Education Isn't Educating, is not convinced.

"You take an understandable anxiety about going to school and turn it into a disease… Children will internalise it and play the role that's been assigned to them.


School phobia - irrational fear of school or the school situation

School refusal - Refusal on the part of a child to attend school

Refusal to go to school may be caused by a school phobia but most school refusals due to separation anxiety

In a true school phobia a child will show the phobic reaction even if his or her parents are present

Source: Penguin Dictionary of Psychology

"It cultivates the idea that these [exaggerated medically diagnosable] anxieties are normal. You do begin to encourage children to think in these terms."

But even if you do accept that school phobia exists, there can still be disagreement over the best approach to tackling it.

Mr Blagg insists that while educational psychologists, teachers and parents must be sensitive to the child's needs, they must recognise that confrontation and getting the child back to school is necessary.

Stay at home

"They need that very firm handling and confronting them and getting them back to school. You might have to take them to school and escort them [in]."

For those who have been away schools should assign tutors, help them catch up and offer them quiet space to be in while they are adjusting.

But there are some advocates of home schooling who believe that rather than being a psychological aberration requiring a cure, the symptoms of school phobia may simply indicate that the child is best educated away from the school, at home.

Ann Newstead, a spokesperson for the home tuition charity Education Otherwise, says school phobia is a "very real condition".

"I see a lot of families where they are in that situation - you only have to meet the children and families to see that it's not a made up condition. It's genuine. Not sending your child to school is something parents can be prosecuted for. You don't risk prosecution lightly."

"You wouldn't dream of forcing an adult to engage in an environment that wasn't beneficial to them. So why do we think it's ok to treat children in this way?"

But aren't children more malleable? Doesn't keeping them back from school indulge their fear rather than tackle the problem?


Would you help an arachnophobe by plonking a spider in their hand?

"I agree with the tackling but not the forcing of it. That's like treating someone who is scared of spiders by putting a spider in their hand. You tackle these things gradually, help someone to overcome a phobia and home education is a way of doing that."

More generally, many schools seek to make some of the changes for children less stressful, for example working on acclimatisation for children moving up to secondary school.

But Prof Furedi does not believe that such a sensitive treatment is necessarily always helpful.

"Kids going from primary school to secondary school often get transitional counselling.

"If you tell them enough times this is an extremely difficult, painful step, you make the kids more anxious."

Below is a selection of your comments.

This article was a helpful insight into the incidence and traits of school phobia. Having been school phobic myself, at ages 11 and 15, I support the argument that it is a real condition. From personal experience, I can say that how the school phobia develops depends on how the parent(s) handle their child's extreme anxiety and how they attempt to tackle the problem.

Victoria Murray, Bristol, England

My daughter went through almost a year of refusal/separation anxiety aged 9 - it was ghastly because on top of worrying about your child there are all the social humiliations of being watched and judged by friends and peers as you literally peel your child's fingers off the classroom doorframe and drag them screaming in to class and then run as their teacher holds them to stop them running after you. I am not exaggerating here at all. I spent many hours crying because it was so stressful. It is hard to feel like you're being so cruel to your child forcing them to go when they are so unhappy but I knew I had to be strong. Friends were very supportive of my morning battle but those parents who didn't know me or my daughter were obviously contemptuous of this 'badly behaved child'. It took a long 6 months to get her back into going to school happily and now she is in year 6 and doing well but if she is under the weather she relapses a little and I have to persuade her to go in (not that she 'loses it' any more but I live in fear that she will). We are a balanced, well educated family with happy, well behaved and well mannered children with hobbies and interests not truants. Luckily for me the teachers, my friends and her friends were all really supportive and helped us come out the other side. The school was very flexible and let her be reclusive when she felt the need and eased her back in to the day by allowing her to help look after the kindergarten children if she couldn't face her classroom. Thus she wasn't allowed to escape school but school bent the rules to help her cope by being accommodating. She was also allowed to ring me at break time for reassurance that I was at home and would collect her at end of school if she was worried. I don't know if it is a diagnosable condition but it certainly isn't voluntary nor 'wilful'. She used to get even more distressed by her behaviour which, of course, snowballed the anxiety even more in a vicious circle. Any parent going through this has my sympathy - it is truly hard. When faced with your child completely hysterical, beyond reason and in danger of doing real harm to themselves and to you and any other adult trying to help them in to school is a nightmare that stays with you for life - I still want to cry and indeed am shedding tears while I write this.

Nicola, Leeds

I think Prof Furedi totally misses what happens in "school phobia". I had this condition as a child, and hate the name too. But it was definitely far more than "an understandable anxiety about going to school". It was a gradual build up of things which included depression and bullying, as well as the normal anxieties and hormones of the teenage years. What adults seem to forget is the extreme pressure on teenagers to fit in. Never again in life are you thrown into a building with several thousand other people your age, of differing backgrounds and expected to get along. The fact is that many kids don't take to this environment, and why on earth would anyone expect them to? When an adult comes across a group of teenagers on a street corner, or in a park, their immediate reaction is fear. Yet the sensitive, bookish, small teenager - who is far more likely to be their target both physically and emotionally - is forced by law to be contained in a building with huge groups of teenagers, all day every day, for what feels like a lifetime. At this same time they are also under pressure from exams and studying, as well as general family and growing up stresses. It's inevitable that at some point most kids will suffer a crisis point, where they can't cope with all those pressures. If this happens in the adult world, people go off sick with stress or depression, often for months. If there is bullying in the workplace, an adult will feel no issue with suing for damages. Yet with a child, it's expected that they should be able to cope emotionally with anything at all.

Cath, Glasgow

Thirty years of teaching in inner city schools has shown me that as soon as a "syndrome" is named, you can be sure that you'll have a rash of 'diagnosed' sufferers within a few weeks. (Tourettes for example). Even if "School phobia" is real; and the pupil who have been prosecuted is a sufferer.. Why should the school apologise? Presumably the evidence of non-attendance was real and provable. The "syndrome" is a circumstance that can be considered by the court. The school is right to pursue truants, their only evidence is attendance records.

Bill Thorpe, Manchester

As a parent of a 15 year old girl I can confirm that I do believe this exist. My daughter has something similar to this due to bullies. She was bullied two years ago and we put her in a new school. Every morning, even now, we have to fight with her. She ask every day am I running a fever, can I stay home. Then all the way to school are text saying, her head hurts, her throat hurts, she is going to pass out and so on. I have seen her shaking in the morning not wanting to go to school and her dad and I feel completely helpless. She is also a very good kid in every other way, and I know she wants to do well in school. Hopefully this is something that more studies are done on which can offer parents help. My daughter does see a therapist, and takes anti depressants, but these are of little help.

Nicole Humphreys, Manchester, England

Having experienced the symptoms described in this article when I was about 10 or 11, I certainly believe this condition exists. I had a long period at that age where I would get nausea in school, extremely anxious, and indeed this anxiety would be fed even more by a fear of actually throwing up, so a real Catch 22! It eventually built up to a level where I felt physically sick at the thought of going to school at all. I have to stress that here that I was normally very happy in school, plenty of friends, not bullied, and very much missed school when i was home 'sick' (and bored!). It wasn't a particularly stressful time in my life otherwise - no big exams etc. at that age. Home life was also very happy, and my parents were supportive and genuinely just concerned. I still can't really pin down a reason for those symptoms coming on, it just seemed to happen quite suddenly. My parents thought for ages I was physically ill, but eventually got in touch with a child psychologist who essentially (as far as I remember) helped me to get over the anxiety and control the 'sick' feeling, and got me going back to school gradually. Whatever he did, it seemed to work, I didn't have any more major episodes like that as I grew older. So I would advocate more patience and understanding of what I think is a very real psychological condition in some children, rather than simply dismissing it as truancy.

Brian McHugh, Edinburgh, U.K.

Yes, phobias exist in school settings, but I don't think that there is actually a school phobia. The reason why the profile of all these school phobiasts are "well behaved, socially conforming...." is for the simple fact that they are suck ups that probably get whatever they want, and their mommies and daddies cradle their kids until their out of college. I think everybody at some point or for a period of time didn't want to go to school. This was probably because we had to deal with something we didn't want to, like: giving a speech, a bully, or maybe getting up too early. These fears or anxieties are normal for everybody. Being afraid of a public institution is just another way to label something else we want to have as an excuse to coddle our kids.

Bixby, US

This is ridiculous. There is always a name for anything that makes us as adults uncomfortable. I am a teacher and i have dealt with children who don't want to come to school, one is now okay as he realised nobody was going to put up with his nonsense. The other left the school as he was very good at manipulating his mother who just did whatever her children wanted. We need to stop labelling children and helping them to come up with excuses. I am sure when they grow up with no qualifications and become yet again another burden on society we will think of another psychological condition to excuse. The problem with the west, too many excuses for bad and manipulative behaviour!!

The following story can be located at :

Truancy mother says daughter bullied

One of the first parents prosecuted under new "fast track" truancy laws has pleaded not guilty - and says her daughter has a "school phobia".

The parents' cases came up at South West Essex Magistrates Court in Grays on Wednesday, where they were charged with not sending their children to school.

The local education authority - Thurrock - is one of nine areas in England trying the new procedures, which can see parents in court within 12 weeks of a child's absence from school if it persists.

Tracy Hornsby, 37, from Millais Place, Tilbury, Essex, pleaded not guilty over the non-attendance of her daughter Toni, 15, at St Chads School.


Tracy Hornsby (right) says daughter Toni has been bullied


Mrs Hornsby told the court she wanted her identity and her daughter's to be made public.

She said her daughter had been bullied, and said she would provide medical evidence that her daughter had a school phobia.

She said: "I feel Thurrock Council and the education department have let my daughter down badly as regards her education."

The case was adjourned for a pre-trial review on 2 April.

In the other cases of alleged truancy, the court was told two mothers were not well enough to attend.

A 41-year-old mother pleaded not guilty to failing to send one child to school, claiming her child also suffered from bullying and phobias.

One father did not appear, two sets of parents were represented by solicitors who said they would deny the charges, and a 37-year-old father did not enter a plea.

All the cases were adjourned.

New procedure

The government has been pursuing a hard line on truancy.

But the statistics on unauthorised absences have proved stubborn, with more than 50,000 children at any one time missing school - equivalent to 7.5 million school days per year, according to the Department for Education.

So it warned families in October that a new scheme was being tried out.

Nine areas are piloting the "fast track" process, with another 13 joining next month and, it is intended, all areas using the procedure from next autumn.

Under the scheme, parents are given 12 weeks - a school term - to improve their children's attendance or face a court summons.

Child-centred policy

Sandra Fletcher, Thurrock Council's principal education officer, said she was disappointed the cases had not been dealt with in one sitting of the court.

Mrs Fletcher, who represented the council in court, said she had not expected people to plead "not guilty".

She would be talking to the Department for Education and the Home Office to see what improvements could be made in future fast-track cases.

She said the council's policy in general was to prosecute parents only as a last resort.

The head of one of the schools concerned, John King of Gable Hall School in Thurrock, said the main issue was the children's welfare.

"We can get the child back into school as fast as we possibly can," he said.

"Their education is vitally important to them, to us as a school, and so long as we get the child back with us we can secure their future and that is our primary concern."

School? Hell no, I just won't go

IT STARTED without warning in just the third week of high school. Marcus, then 12, refused to get out of bed and put on his uniform.

His mother, Phenella Peterson, brushed it off as high school jitters. Most parents, she reasoned, had faced the challenge of persuading a reluctant child to go to school.

Several days later, as the school bus waited outside, Marcus (not his real name) was again anxious and became very distressed, crumpling to the floor in tears.


Psychologist Amanda Dudley says families can struggle for months, even years, to get a child back into the classroom. Photo: Eddie Jim

"I was trying to get him out of the door and he just collapsed in front of me and said 'I can't do it, I can't do it' and I remember looking at him thinking, 'How am I going to pick him up and put him on that bus?'


"I'm really embarrassed by my behaviour then, but I just ranted and raved and said 'What are you doing? There's a bus here, you gotta get up.' This continued for a few days."

She watched with frustration and bewilderment as her once bright and happy son quickly deteriorated and frequently complained of being unwell. Almost every day, he found a reason why he couldn't go to school.

"He'd say, 'I haven't slept all night I don't feel well' and have every sickness under the sun — headaches, stomach aches, you name it. He couldn't sleep because he was worrying . . . it all became a vicious circle."

Although Marcus had made some new friends at school, he constantly worried about what they would think of him and was very self-conscious around them.

By chance, Ms Peterson mentioned her ordeal to a work colleague who had experienced similar problems with her daughter and encouraged her to seek help.

Marcus was diagnosed with social anxiety and school refusal and placed on medication. It was the start of three harrowing years.

He eventually missed 50 per cent of class time in year 7, a pattern that continued through years 8 and 9. Ms Peterson had to miss work to stay home with him.

Now, as another school year unfolds, Marcus has already missed one day and is certain to be dealing with more days when he can't face the prospect of going to school.

Marcus is not alone. School refusal affects about 2 per cent of Victorian students, usually as a result of excessive anxiety.

Psychologists say children who experience school refusal are not simply trying to get out of class; for them the fear is real.

They become severely emotionally distressed when going to school or at the mere thought of doing so. That fear is often accompanied by nausea, headaches, stomach pains, sweating, and rapid breathing.

Like Marcus, they will often complain of feeling unwell, become withdrawn, worry excessively about how things will go and say they don't have friends. Some will cry for hours.

"The thought of going to school can make these children highly anxious and they experience really significant emotional distress and upset," says psychologist Amanda Dudley.

Ms Dudley, program co-ordinator at Monash University's Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology, says families can struggle for months, even years, to get a child back into the classroom. Some just don't go back.

Ms Dudley says school refusal differs from truancy, as students usually stay home with their parents' consent.

"It can be really sudden or it can build up over weeks or months . . . they might refuse on a day here or there, it might begin with vague statements like 'I don't like school', 'I don't feel like going' or they report feeling unwell," Ms Dudley says.

"They aren't 100 per cent aware of why," she says. "They just know they don't feel good when they go to school."

Reasons vary but psychologists have identified transition times such as the start of prep and the move to secondary school as triggers.

Teenagers are most at risk.

Psychologist Pat Boyhan, who manages CatholicCare's cool2b@school school refusal program, says the centre sees about 50 children each year.

Ms Boyhan says the reasons students refuse to attend school are complex. Often it is general anxiety, but sometimes it can mask something that is deeply troubling the child, such as bullying or problems at home.

"We've had children who are highly anxious and found that there's domestic violence and the child's staying at home to protect mum," she says. "But it can be all sorts of reasons from alcohol and drug abuse to mental health issues or post separation conflict between parents."

Untreated, a child with school refusal will eventually fall back academically, suffer social isolation and be at risk of developing mental health problems, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, social phobia, panic attacks and depression as an adult.

School refusal is also traumatic for parents, who usually have no idea how to deal with a child who suddenly won't get dressed, get in the car or go into school.

"The impact and destruction to family life is really quite significant, troubling and distressing," Ms Dudley says.

"Often there is no clear explanation as to why the problem has surfaced, and parents are left struggling with their child's seemingly unreasonable fear of school."

Well-meaning parents can make things worse by allowing an anxious child to stay at home.

"They may calm down and have a reduction in distress but of course the issue resurfaces the next day when they try to get them to go [to school] and often it becomes more intense over time," Ms Dudley says.

It is a scenario that is all too familiar to Linda Hibbs.

Her son, now 12, first began refusing to go to school in prep. He missed 60 days that year and his erratic pattern continued during primary school. He would become distressed and refuse to leave the house, complaining of headaches, nausea, stomach pain or diarrhoea.

"I would use force to get him in the car," she says. "It was just heart wrenching but psychologists were telling me that's what I had to do.

"He was just getting more and more stressed by me trying to drag him there and he got quite depressed in grade 4 and talked about wanting to kill himself . . . he was depressed for weeks on end." She felt guilty but realised the longer he was away, the more he would miss out on school work and social networks.

"It is very traumatic because you know you have to get your child to school and no matter what you do you can't," she says. "School refusal sounds like a child just being naughty or the parent is being weak when in fact it is an anxiety disorder and it affects more than school."

For her, the problem has been frustrating and deeply affecting.

"It's had a huge impact on me, I haven't been able to work because he spends a lot of time at home and I don't know when it's going to be."

Now that her son has started secondary school and managing his anxiety better, Ms Hibbs is hoping things will improve.

"He is hanging in there and going every day despite feeling like throwing up every morning," she says.

"I have found the support at the secondary school very good as the welfare co-ordinator got the year 7 co-ordinator to ring me to let me know how my son was going during the day."

Experts say close communication with school is important in helping students get back to school, even if only for part of the day.

Ms Dudley says early intervention is crucial. Parents should contact the school's welfare support officer, counsellor or psychologist to develop strategies as soon as they can.

"There is no quick solution to the problem . . . the longer a young person is out of school, the more difficult and challenging it is to assist them with returning to school," she says.

Treatment options vary from helping the child relax and develop their coping and social skills, to counselling involving cognitive behaviour therapy and medication for anxiety and depression.

For Ms Peterson, the guilt, sadness and frustration of that time may have blurred, but the emotional legacy remains. She credits the school's welfare officer for helping Marcus return to school.

"You don't want anyone to go through that. It has taken a huge toll on us, but our marriage is still intact and we're still operating, I count that as a blessing and a big tick, but it has been very hard."

School Phobia Vs School Refusal - is there a difference?

Article by: Tish Davidson A.M

Original Article can be located HERE


The term school phobia was first used in 1941 to identify children who fail to attend school because attendance causes emotional distress and anxiety. In Great Britain and as of the early 2000s in the United States, the term school refusal is preferred.


School phobia is a complex syndrome that can be influenced by the child's temperament, the situation at school, and the family situation. Current thinking defines school phobia or school refusal as an anxiety disorder related to separation anxiety. Children refuse to attend school because doing so causes uncomfortable feelings, stress, anxiety, or panic. Many children develop physical symptoms, such as dizziness, stomachache, or headache, when they are made to go to school. School avoidance is a milder form of refusal to attend school. With school avoidance, the child usually tries to avoid a particular situation, such as taking a test or changing clothes for physical education, rather than avoiding the school environment altogether.

School refusal usually develops after a child has been home from school for an illness or vacation. It may also follow a stressful family event, such as divorce, parental illness or injury, death of a relative, or a move to a new school. Usually refusal to attend school develops gradually, with children putting up increasingly intense resistance to going to school as time passes. Psychiatrists believe that in young children, the motivating factor often is a desire to stay with the parent or caregiver rather than to avoid an unpleasant situation at school. In older children, or if school refusal comes on suddenly, it may be related to avoiding a distressing situation at school such as bullying, teasing, severe teacher criticism, or it may follow a humiliating event such as throwing up in class. The longer a child stays out of school, the more difficult it is for that child to return.

School refusal is not the same as truancy. Children who are school refusers suffer anxiety and physical symptoms when they go to school. They may have temper tantrums over going to school or become depressed. They may threaten to harm themselves if made to go to school. School refusers usually work to get their parent's permission to stay home. If allowed to stay home, they usually stay in the house or near the parent or caregiver. The child is willing to do make-up school work at home, so long as he or she does not have to go to school.

Children who are truants are not anxious about school; they simply do not want to be there. They try to hide their absence from their parents and have no interest in make-up schoolwork or meeting academic expectations. Unlike school phobia, truancy often occurs with other antisocial behaviors such as shoplifting, lying, and drug and alcohol use.


Boys and girls refuse to attend school at the same rates. School phobia is highest in children ages five to seven and 11 to 14. These ages correspond with starting school, and transitioning through middle school or junior high school, both unusually stressful periods. Estimates suggest that about 4.5 percent of children ages 7 to 11 and 1.3 percent of children age 14 to 16 are school refusers. School phobia is an international problem, with an estimated rate of 2.4 percent of all school-age children worldwide refusing to attend classes.

Children who are more likely to become school refusers share certain characteristics. These include:

  • reluctance to stay in a room alone or fear of the dark
  • clinging attachment to parents or caregivers
  • excessive worry that something dreadful will happen at home while they are at school
  • difficulties sleeping or frequent nightmares about separation
  • homesickness when away at places other than at school, or an excessive need to stay in touch with the parent or caregiver while away

Causes and Symptoms

There appears to be a genetic component to all anxiety disorders, including school phobia. Children whose parents have anxiety disorders have a higher rate of anxiety disorders than children whose parents do not have these disorders. School phobia is often associated with other anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia or other mental health disorders such as depression. Some experts theorize that another possible cause of school refusal is traumatic and prolonged separation from the primary caregiver in early childhood.

Family functioning affects school refusal. Stressful events or a dysfunctional family can cause children to feel compelled to stay home. Young children are more likely to refuse to separate from their parent or caregiver because they fear something catastrophic will happen to the adult while they are at school. Older children may refuse to leave a parent who is ill or who has a substance abuse problem, in effect trying to cope for t