Families like yours are NOT alone in having a child experiencing school attendance problems and barriers. Many parents or carers who contact us says they felt as if they were the only ones, until they made contact with other parents.
Believe your child’s distress is real, listen to what they say and trust your instincts as a parent or carer.
Mental & physical health related absence should be authorised as illness. Extended absence requires medical evidence, so see a GP and arrange to be referred to CAMHS.
Most schools should offer mental health support, counselling, and access to a School Nurse, they can also ask an Educational Psychologist to make an assessment.
These suggestions will help you to access the support your child needs, and help you to protect yourself from prosecution for non-attendance:
It is important to keep a brief diary of what happens day to day to build a picture of the problem and the steps that have been taken. Keep a file of notes you take at meetings, during phone calls etc. and copies of ALL emails and letters. Check that minutes of meetings are accurate. It is often useful to take someone with you so that they can take notes while you listen and you have someone to discuss the meeting with afterwards. (To help with this correspond as much as possible by email and consider using an automatic call recorder on your phone).
This blog post explains the value of keeping records and how to go about it:
The reason you give for absence is significant, there are subtle differences but they are important if you end up in court:
ABSENCE DUE TO ILLNESS
Check to see how non-attendance is being coded in the register- check for accuracy and challenge anything you are not happy with.
If you’re concerned about school records you can make a full Subject Access Request (SAR) for a copy of all records held. Check through them carefully for accuracy and for gaps in the paperwork, and ask for them to be corrected.
You will need this to protect yourself from prosecution
Families are often pressured to obtain medical evidence to have absence authorised or to allow for the provision of alternative education. This is usually based upon local policy, NOT statutory guidance.
Other parents will have experienced the same situations as you and can offer advice or support. This is especially relevant if:
Focus on policies for ATTENDANCE, SEND, & MAKING COMPLAINTS (as applicable).
Check they are being followed correctly and if they are not, ask why?
The school should respond to attendance problems by making assessments and helping to investigate what the underlying triggers or unmet needs are so that they can be addressed. This might involve the SENDCo, and referrals to an Educational Psychologist, CAMHS, and possibly other services such as Occupational Therapy and Speech and Language Therapy.
Ask for meetings and contact people who might be willing to help (including your GP, CAMHS helpline, School Nurse, Local MP, LA attendance team).
Start with the following websites (see links below):
Then also look at others you think may be helpful
Act quickly - hopefully you will have been keeping records and trying to get medical evidence - (don't leave it this late to get medical evidence and referrals) - this is what protects you, as prosecuting parents of a child with a diagnosis of mental health problems: (a) generally doesn't happen and (b) breaches the Equality Act (2010). Sadly, people often get to the point of being in court the following week, don't have representation and then don't point out to judge that the child is absent because of mental illness. So, it is VERY important to see your GP and get a CAMHS referral in place ASAP.
The Department for Education published new School Attendance Guidance, 'Working together to improve attendance' to be applied from 1st September 2022 onwards, with further guidance published in February 2023 (SEE BELOW)
The recommended approach is a focus on building relationships to facilitate access to support.
If you wish to join us, you need to click on the 'Join this group' button in the link below and answer our THREE QUESTIONS for new members
School Attendance Difficulties, and related conditions and problems, can be very stressful for parents, and can affect the whole family. Remember to seek medical advice & support for your own health.
Please remember that you are not alone. We hope you can find support through Not Fine In School and other online support groups. You may find local support groups too.
Contact offer 1-1 telephone appointments with a family support adviser for parent carers looking for a listening ear, reassurance and practical and emotional support. We recommend that you book an appointment with them to talk through your situation
Dr Naomi Fisher is an independent clinical psychologist and EMDR-Europe trainer. She specialises in trauma, autism and alternative approaches to education. She works with children, adolescents and adults.
She is the author of Changing our Minds: How Children Can Take Control of their Own Learning (Robinson, 2021) and A Different Way to Learn: Neurodiversity and Self-Directed Education (JKP, 2023).
Naomi's blog posts discuss various aspects of school based anxiety, attendance difficulties, self-directed learning and low demand parenting.
The SEND FAMILY INSTINCTS & NOT FINE IN SCHOOL membership package gives you:
This service aims to disrupt the current status quo which leaves parents feeling lost and alone.
There are no tie ins. You just come and go as you need. It’s only £30 a month for unlimited confidential support. Once you sign up, the helpdesk is there waiting for you to ask as many questions as you have.
If you have questions please ask at firstname.lastname@example.org
MindJam offers emotional support and guidance for children and adolescents through gaming and game design. It is important to recognise and understand that many children have additional emotional needs that are not always met by traditional means. At a young age, these needs can sometimes feel overwhelming and often isolating.
At MindJam, our aim is to support children who suffer anxiety, stress, social issues and other emotional needs. We are experienced in working with children with ASD, ADHD, Trauma, PDA and children who have been adopted. MindJam uses gaming, coding and game creation, digital music and digital art, as a platform to develop positive play, problem solving and social and technical skill development, through friendly, positive and low-demand sessions. These activities are great for relieving stress and anxiety and have been shown to greatly benefit mental health and cognitive development.
Spectrum Gaming is an online community for autistic young people which has three main intended outcomes:
1) Building Friendships - A lot of autistic young people are lonely, isolated and struggle with friendships. We wanted to create a community where autistic young people feel comfortable and can make strong friendships in a safe way. Our main provision is our online community, that anyone from across the UK can access. We also run meet ups for young people who live in the Greater Manchester area.
2) Increasing Self-Acceptance - Because of how much people misunderstand autism and the way it is diagnosed, unfortunately many autistic people hate their diagnosis or feel ashamed of being autistic. We want to make sure as many autistic people as possible are able to accept their differences and live the happiest lives they can
3) Advocacy - We don't just want to be a community that enables autistic young people to develop meaningful friendships and develop a more positive perspective of autism. We want to create a movement that will have a positive influence on society through advocacy, and enable strategical change to ensure the needs of autistic young people are met across the UK. We have created a platform where young people can share their voices through content, talks and more.
UNCOMMON MINDS are running a short three part Confidence and Connection course for neurodivergent young people aged 7-9 with emotionally based school avoidance.
The sessions are designed so that participants can choose how they take part. Some just observe with cameras off, whilst others interact. The topics covered include Building Confidence, Managing Anxiety and Navigating Friendships.
FOR SEPARATION ANXIETY: One really discrete thing that a parent has done this year is to sew a small piece of shared fabric into the jumper. The child knows that this piece of something from home is always with them and that mummy has a piece attached inside her handbag.
FOR SEPARATION ANXIETY: A four-year-old girl has created a ‘hug button’ to help her feel close to her mum when she’s at school. Violet Orrick and her mum Leanne, draw love hearts on each other’s hands which they press to send each other imagined hugs when they’re apart.
You could copy this idea, using a pen to draw small hearts on your arms/hand or elsewhere. You can also look out for temporary tatoos that can be used such as this on Etsy.