You are NOT alone in having a child experiencing school attendance difficulties. Many parents who contacts us says they felt as if they were the only ones, until they made contact with us.
Believe your child’s distress is real, listen to what they say and trust your instincts as a parent.
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:
Check to see how non-attendance is being recorded - 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.
The DfE document 'School Attendance' states that absence due to Physical or Mental Illness should be marked in the register using Code I and the guidance states:
Schools should advise parents to notify them on the first day the child is unable to attend due to illness. Schools should authorise absences due to illness unless they have genuine cause for concern about the veracity of an illness. If the authenticity of illness is in doubt, schools can request parents to provide medical evidence to support illness. Schools can record the absence as unauthorised if not satisfied of the authenticity of the illness but should advise parents of their intention. Schools are advised not to request medical evidence unnecessarily. Medical evidence can take the form of prescriptions, appointment cards, etc. rather than doctors’ notes.
The document 'Ensuring a good education for children who cannot attend school because of health needs' (paragraph 12) states:
Where they have identified that alternative provision is required, LAs should ensure that it is arranged as quickly as possible and that it appropriately meets the needs of the child. In order to better understand the needs of the child, and therefore choose the most appropriate provision, LAs should work closely with medical professionals and the child’s family, andconsider the medical evidence. LAs should make every effort to minimise the disruption to a child’s education. For example, where specific medical evidence, such as that provided by a medical consultant, is not quickly available, LAs should consider liaising with other medical professionals, such as the child’s GP, and consider looking at other evidence to ensure minimal delay in arranging appropriate provision for the child.
and Paragraph 14 states:
The law does not specify the point during a child’s illness when it becomes the LA’s responsibility to secure for the child suitable full-time education. Schools would usually provide support to children who are absent from school because of illness for a shorter period, for example when experiencing chicken pox or influenza. In some cases, where a child is hospitalised, the hospital may provide education for the child within the hospital and the LA would not need to arrange any additional education, provided it is satisfied that the child is receiving suitable education. More generally, LAs should be ready to take responsibility for any child whose illness will prevent them from attending school for 15 or more school days, either in one absence or over the course of a school year, and where suitable education is not otherwise being arranged.
Other parents will have experienced the same situations as you and can offer advice or support. This is especially relevant if:
The reason you give for absence is significant, there are subtle differences but they are important if you end up in court:
Focus on policies for ATTENDANCE, SEND, & COMPLAINTS.
Check they are being followed correctly and if they are not, ask why?
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.
See below or in the RESOURCES section for downloads of relevant legislation.
IAS Services have a duty to provide information, advice and support to disabled children and young people, and those with SEN, and their parents. They are statutory services which means there has to be one in every local authority.
IPSEA offers free and independent legally based information, advice and support to help get the right education for children and young people with all kinds of special educational needs and disabilities.
SOS!SEN is a national charity aiming to empower parents and carers of children with SEN to tackle successfully themselves the difficulties they face when battling for their children’s rights
CONTACT support families with the best possible guidance and information about disability. They offer local area contacts and a helpline for advice.
The UK's largest provider of specialist autism services.
Fiightback is a parent group who support those accused of Fabricating or Inducing Illness
What to expect if you ask for assistance from your local authority social services department or if another professional asks a social worker to visit because they have concerns about the welfare of a member of your family.
Family Rights Group was established in 1974, by a group of lawyers, social workers and academics who were concerned about how families were treated when social services were involved with their children.
FRG work with parents whose children are in need, at risk or are in the care system and with members of the wider family who are raising children unable to remain at home.
Grandparents Plus is the only national charity (England and Wales) dedicated to supporting kinship carers - grandparents and other relatives raising children who aren't able to live with their parents.
SingleParents.org.uk brings together essential information, expert advice, interactive learning, multi-media content, links to other support organisations and news for anyone who is parenting alone.
Happy Steps has been designed to gather together a whole range of services to help families and individuals strengthen their stepfamilies and to provide training and tools for organisations and family professionals.
Sibs exists to support people who grow up with or have grown up with a disabled brother or sister. It is the only UK charity representing the needs of over half a million young siblings and over one and a half million adult siblings.
Gingerbread are the leading national charity working with single parent families.
Search for services in your area
Whatever you need to know about coping with stress, anxiety or depression, or just generally improving your emotional wellbeing, the NHS Choices Moodzone is here to help. It offers practical, useful information, interactive tools, and videos to support you on your way to feeling better.
Support when your child does not have a diagnosis.
Careers advice for parents and young people
Our advocacy service is a free and confidential service available to anyone who wants support to make a complaint to the NHS.
Child Law Advice is operated by Coram Children’s Legal Centre. They provide specialist advice and information on child, family and education law to parents, carers and young people in England.
Educational Equality support and advise families with all aspects of applying for EHCPs and appropriate SEND provision.
Parents, carers & professionals can use The Local Offer's Provider Search Feature to find services in their area and they can access free Information, Advice and Guidance
Family Action transforms lives by providing practical, emotional and financial support to those who are experiencing poverty, disadvantage and social isolation across the country.
HE UK is the oldest, most established continuously running website on home education in the UK.
The website carries information on many aspects of home education, and related issues, including an excellent FAQ as an introduction to the subject for those first considering home educating their child.
We support parents who are looking to make the best decisions for their family during separation and divorce.
We support parents who are looking to make the best decisions for their family during separation and divorce.
Family Fund is the UK’s largest charity providing grants for families raising disabled or seriously ill children and young people.
Our mission is to provide items and services to all low-income families in the UK raising disabled or seriously ill children, that they could not otherwise afford or access, and that help improve their quality of life, realise their rights, and remove some of the barriers they face.
We believe that family life should be full of fun and adventure. That's especially important when your child has a disability or life-threatening illness. Sky Badger is where you'll find help for physical disabilities, special educational needs, mental health problems as well as finding support for your whole family.
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 refusal, and related conditions and difficulties, 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, and you may find local support groups too.
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.
Guidance on School Attendance 2018 (pdf)Download
Parents Guide to Registration Codes (pdf)Download
Education OutOfSchool for Health Needs Guidance 2013 (pdf)Download
Supporting Pupils at School with Medical Conditions (pdf)Download
School Attendance Parental Responsibility Measures Statutory Guidance (pdf)Download
SEND Code of Practice 2015 (pdf)Download
Special Educational Needs and Disabilites Guide for Parents and Carers (pdf)Download
Equality Act and School (pdf)Download
ENGLAND Disability Discrimination Technical Guidance Schools (doc)Download
Children Missing Education Statutory Guidance (pdf)Download
Attendance Issues Medical Needs Factsheet (pdf)Download
Alternative Provision Statutory Guidance (pdf)Download
Use of Reasonable Force Advice 2015 (pdf)Download
SCOTLAND - Guidance for CYP too ill to attend (pdf)Download
UNCRC how legislation underpins implementation in england 2010 (pdf)Download