What Happens if Your Child Refuses to Go to School in the UK?

In General by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

As a parent, you may be worried about the implications of your child’s absences from school. School refusal, although it seems similar to truancy, is actually an entirely different issue which centres around a child’s anxiety about being away from family, or a fear of going to school.  Not only does it have a huge effect on a child’s mental and social wellbeing, but it can seem very difficult to resolve.   

In short, many different actions can be taken by the government if your child misses school. This may start with methods of support and a voluntary contract between you and the school. If the situation worsens, the action taken could progress to legal orders, fines or prosecution. In terms of their education, your child’s absence from school will prevent them from learning subject content properly, which may affect their future options. Also, missing school can prevent development of key functional skills and lead to isolation from their peers. You can work on your child’s school refusal by understanding why it is happening, striking a balance between sympathy and authority, and communicating with the school.  

If you would like to know more about the impacts of your child missing school, please do keep reading, and hopefully the article will be able to answer any questions you may have.  

What Official Action May Be Taken? 

The government lays out a variety of methods which may be used to help overcome your child’s school refusal. Firstly, support teams are available to provide family help, for example if a child is a young carer. Teams can also help address serious issues such as bullying.  

In some cases, you may be asked to sign a Parenting Contract. This is a voluntary agreement made to give you practical help and support in getting your child to attend school. Although legally you have no obligation to do this, please take into account that this may be used as evidence in any court action against you. 

When your child’s absence from school becomes more continued, a penalty notice may be issued. This will be prefaced in most cases by a warning letter from the Local Authority or the Headteacher/Deputy Head Teacher from your child’s school. It will require you to pay a fine of £60 within 28 days of the notice being issued, and the amount is doubled if this date is not kept.  

Alternatively, the Local Authority might apply for an Education Supervision OrderThis gives them the power to make decisions about your child’s education, such as which school theare educated at, and what you must do to make sure they are attending regularly.  

Unfortunately, you may be prosecuted for your child not attending school, or if you do not pay a fine. This could result in a variety of actions, including fines, community orders or even jail sentences 

In addition, the Court is able to make various orders, one of which is an Education Supervision Order (as discussed above). The Court could also issue a Parenting Order. This means you must attend a parenting programme lasting up to three months, and the Court can ask you to comply with any other requirements for up to twelve months. It is a criminal offence if you do not comply with a Parenting Order without very good reason.  

Finally, if you have not enrolled your child in school yet, a School Attendance Order could be issued. This will name a school that your child is required to attend.  

The aim of all these measures is to benefit your child and they are not a penalisation, simply a more structured approach. However, you must be aware that not complying with conditions can result in a prosecution, fine or Community Penalty, or be used later as evidence against you. 

If you would like to learn more about these legal actions, please visit the UK government’s information page on school absences. 

How Does Missing School Impact a Child’s Education? 

The most obvious impact of your child refusing to go to school is that they will miss out on valuable knowledge which they might not have the chance to learn later. 

From primary school all the way up to sixth form, children are taught key concepts which they will continue to build on as they become older. Therefore, a child missing multiple days of school for no good reason will most likely disadvantage them in the future, as they will have less understanding than their peers of a subject.  

Also, if many successive lessons are missed, they may have to teach it to themselves to catch up, instead of receiving the guidance of an expert teacher.  

You won’t be surprised to know that excessive absences have also been linked with a lower academic achievement in standardised tests and exams. Tests are used as a measure of both achievement and progress and are important in terms of the influence they have on future choices. 

For example, GCSE results are used to determine which sixth form or college a student can study at, what they can study there, and may also be considered by admissions officers when applying to universities or employment. A-levels or similar qualifications are used to decide options for higher education, as well as being used by potential employers to work out if a potential candidate is a good fit.   

So, if a student misses several lessons in a subject and doesn’t understand the content properly, this could go on to affect their future studies or employment, and potentially mean having to give up that subject. Missing lessons in core subjects at GCSE level, such as English and Maths, could also have significant downsides as it may lead to failing the exam. This means that a student must retake the GCSE, which will impact their study of A-levels.   

That’s part of the reason why it is so important that students attend school regularly: so that they can learn content and skills for exams, setting themselves on a good path for their careers later in life.  

How Does School Refusal Impact a Child’s Development? 

Although this point is particularly applicable to primary school aged children, the truth is that refusing to attend school hinders mental, social and emotional development at all ages.  

As well as pupils being taught the national curriculum, lessons are carefully planned to build key skills, some of which include problem solving, teamwork, memory, adaptability and critical thinking. These are known as executive functioning skills and are necessary for the basic functions of human life, hence the name.  

However, if students are allowed to stay at home instead of attending school, they will have significantly less opportunities to develop their executive functioning skills, as they are not challenging themselves intellectually, as well as having reduced interactions with teachers and other students.  

Your child may also find it difficult to develop these skills when they are older if they do not attend school now. This is due to the fact that brain patterns become more solidified as you grow up, which cements certain habits and makes them harder to change.  

How Does Missing School Impact a Child’s Friendships? 

We all know how daunting that first day of school can be, and part of the reason so many students are terrified to start a new school is because they must step outside of their comfort zone and make some new friends.  

Regardless, a child not attending the first day of school will actually have a more negative impact on them overall. When they do go to school later, they will feel left out from friendship groups and set apart because of their absence.  

Missing school can also negatively affect the mindsets of your child’s classmates towards them. For example, classmates may become irritated or resentful towards those who only attend school some of the time.  

In fact, in a study made by the University of Glasgow, this was the most common attitude shown by regular attenders towards non-attenders. They felt that the teachers’ time was not fairly divided, and that they were ignored as other students needed support to catch up on missed work.  

Friends of those who often miss school could also experience loneliness, due to thinking that their friends don’t care about spending time with them. This can lead them to seek other friends.  

All of these responses could isolate your child if they are caused to dislike the school environment. This may mean that they miss even more days of school because they feel as if they don’t fit in, therefore continuing to distance themselves from their peers.   

How Can You Help Your Child Overcome School Refusal? 

Now you know that missing school is bad for children in a variety of ways; the question is, what can you do about it? Here are three ways you can help them to address their fear of school.    

Find Out The Cause 

It’s essential that you work out why your child refuses to go to school: if you don’t, it will be more difficult to reason with them as they feel like you don’t understand and will be closed off to whatever you say.  

Some of the most common reasons for school refusal are bullying, anxiety, conflict with friends, family life or issues with workload. Think about whether your child could be being affected by any of these factors, and, if possible, ask them about it in a conversation.  

Finding out the real issue will allow you to take steps to solve it, and it can help you understand what your child is going through.   

Be Kind But Firm 

One important thing you need to know is that children who refuse to go to school are not being deliberately provoking, lazy, or trying to enjoy themselves at home. Instead, they have a real aversion to going to school, for whatever reason it may be. 

Therefore, be kind to them. Let them know that you sympathise with them and show them you’re working to resolve their issue.   

However, you also need to keep your expectations clear. Your child should be in no doubt that they need to go to school, for all the reasons stated above.  

If you’re trying to decide in front of your child whether they need to go to school, it sends them a mixed message. The best option is to work out beforehand when you will and won’t send them to school, and then stick with it.  

Communicate With The School 

It may be that the school have already spoken to you if your child has had several absences from school. However, if this is not the case, take the opportunity to tell the school what is going on – they are there to help you.  

This allows you to confront a problem head-on. Alerting teachers to any struggles your child may be having means that they can be aware of this in their dealings in the classroom. They can also make a greater effort for your child to feel more comfortable in the school environment.  

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