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With the statutory requirement to report attendance figures comes the additional need to look at why pupils aren’t attending. Attendance figures include data on school refusers; a term that covers those who simply don’t want to go to school and those who are phobic and become incredibly anxious when attending is suggested.

It’s important to get to the centre of why a child refuses to attend, it’s also crucial to put support in place through educational strategies.

The setting up of a specific unit for refusers

There are many reasons a pupil becomes a refuser: bullying, learning difficulties, family issues or problems with being in the same place with so many other people being a few examples.  The setting up of a specific  unit for refusers on the same site as the mainstream school – as well as those who are school phobic – can provide an environment where the pupils feel safe when they attend, know they will be listened to and can continue with the set curriculum within a small group of others who have similar emotions attached to their lack of desire to attend mainstream schooling.

Attending the Unit

Those attending the unit will have been referred after early indications of persistent absence have been identified; it is the early intervention that is one of the keys to success to reintegration. The first step is to assure the pupil that they will be listened to and to work with a questionnaire which explores their anxieties and then a discussion regarding the problems the pupil is encountering.

The outcome of the questionnaire and discussion will then form the basis of the devising of targets and ways to look at eventual reintegration to mainstream classes.

The classes should encompass group work which helps all those attending to talk to each other about their fears and thoughts about school with the option of being able to attend some mainstream classes if they feel capable.

It’s a very individual challenge

Every school refuser has a different reason for not wanting to attend. When attending the unit, those who are the specialist staff running it will spend time with each pupil slowly exploring their anxieties. It’s impossible to have a cover-all approach as no two pupils will ever be the same. It’s also vital that patience is shown and that the support given is at a pace to suit the pupil – some will need a great amount of time to work through their difficulties and having a policy such as setting deadlines as to when the placement will end will stop them wanting to attend the unit.

Staffing levels

For a refuser unit to work, there needs to be a favourable staff: pupil ratio. This way, the support staff will immediately realise if a pupil has decided not to attend and can visit the family home if necessary to talk through their absence. It also means that when mainstream lessons are identified that the pupil feels comfortable attending, the support teacher can be there with them during the class.

The setting up of a specific unit within a school and taking the time to work with each pupil on their individual issues removes some of the stresses of being at school. Registration time is often cited as an anxiety due to the large numbers involved and so start and finish times for the unit can be set where attendance means there is no registration period (a 9.30am start for example) and thus removing this as an anxiety.

With the main reasons given by school refusers as social anxiety, changes in pupil groupings and fear of the overall school environment, these are solid starting points for working with any pupils with persistent absence.

The most important aspect to remember is that to the pupil these are not trivial matters; they are overwhelming and insurmountable and from the first day a pupil finds the courage to attend a refusers unit, the very first message should be that nothing they say will be trivialised by the teachers or any adults who work there as there is a very real understanding of how the pupil is feeling. Once this is understood, everyone can move forward to a successful outcome – however long this may take.

To find out how EDLounge can support you in the education of your school refusers, contact us on 01909 568 338 or email