The term “school refusal” has gained more awareness since COVID hit in 2019. With parents and guardians finding it difficult to navigate and adapt to their child’s struggle to attend traditional educational settings, it’s more important than ever to understand what school refusal means and how to adapt.

In this blog post, we summarise a podcast hosted by the CEO of the National Extension College, Esther Chesterman, and Samreen Shah, Head of Ellern Mede School and expert in trauma-informed education. 

The podcast explores what school refusal is and what solutions are available, you can listen to the podcast in full via the player above, or by downloading it from NEC’s Podbean page.

The podcast also examines school refusal from different perspectives, including the child’s, the parents, and the teachers. Samreen, who works in a mental health setting in a school, notes that school refusal is common and can happen during transitions when children need to feel safe. Samreen notes that school refusal is usually a symptom of something else, such as struggling with the transition, change, or some other trauma.

What does school refusal mean?

The term school refusal is contentious as it implies that a child is choosing not to attend school, but it could be due to emotional and mental health issues. 

Organisations such as Young Minds have proposed alternative terms such as emotionally based school avoidance, anxiety-related absence, and barriers to attendance. 

How do you deal with school refusal?

Parents and guardians of children who refuse to attend school may feel a sense of failure, fear, and hopelessness. The fear stems from the possibility of being fined for their children’s absence, and the sense of failure from being unable to take their child to school. Parents may not notice the sudden onset of school refusal, such as slow preparation for school, and the child finding school work challenging.

In the podcast, we discuss solutions for school refusal, such as the involvement of mental health professionals, a multidisciplinary approach involving teachers, parents, and professionals, and the creation of, for example, a safe space in schools. The podcast notes that school refusal is a growing issue that needs attention and solutions.

Why does my child refuse to go to school?

We understand that this can be difficult for parents and guardians, but it’s important to keep in mind that your child is likely to be struggling in some way in order to have come to this decision. 

If you are currently dealing with your child’s refusal to go to school, here are some reasons why your child may be finding going to school difficult:

  • School difficulties: It’s common for children to feel uneasy in a school setting when they find a particular lesson or subject difficult. They may be feeling like they are falling behind which can be difficult to navigate when surrounded by peers.
  • Bullying: According to the Anti-Bullying Alliance, 40% of young people were bullied in the last 12 months. With this in mind, it’s not uncommon for a child dealing with a school bully to want to avoid the setting.
  • Problems at home: Although it might seem unusual for a child to avoid an educational setting due to problems at home, however should a child be aware of any changes including separations, bereavements etc, a child refusing school can be a way of the child dealing with these concerns. 


There are a number of reasons why a child may refuse school. The important thing to keep in mind is that communication between parent/guardian and child, parent/guardian and school educators can be key in dealing with the situation. 

If you have any concerns when it comes to your child’s school refusal and would like some clarity around your options when it comes to distance learning, get in touch today. We are always happy to help. 

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