Anxiety and school attendance issues

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Anxiety can affect us all. It is a feeling of worry, unease or fear. It has its purposes and can help us to be better prepared. Before an exam, for example, it might make a young person more alert and help to improve their performance. However, there are times when anxiety can be disabling. Parents and carers report increasing levels of anxiety amongst their children or young people. Some parents report that their children are either out of school completely due to anxiety, or heading in that direction. So what can parents do?

Venetta Buchanan is Sheffield’s Advisory Teacher for Elective Home Education. She regularly supports families experiencing these issues. Venetta says: ”When a child’s ability to cope begins to decline, it is natural for the parent to try to do what they can to counter the anxiety.” She sums up her advice saying: “When it comes to children with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) and school attendance issues, I would say that the most important thing parents can do is to involve professionals in and out of their school base as soon as possible.”

Support

In Sheffield there are several services that can help, and a list of key contacts is included at the end of this article. Additional information is available on the Local Offer website. Within education, Multi-Agency Support Teams (MAST) support school attendance issues and are commissioned to provide early mental health support. All schools have access to Educational Psychology support. Obviously, making early contact with your child or young person’s GP will give you advice and support. If the anxiety is related to a known special educational need, then the relevant Local Authority (LA) support team can help. For example, it is known that there is a common link between autism and anxiety. The Autism Education Team is available on their support line if advice is needed.

The legal framework

Schools have a legal duty to monitor and enforce good attendance. This means if they don’t know the circumstance, they might consider fining the parent for their child’s non-attendance or start court proceedings. Whilst a child is on roll at a school, the local authority has a responsibility to that child and ensuring their education is suitable for them. Schools and the LA also have a responsibility to have a policy on the education of children with medical needs. Currently the LA is reviewing its policy.

Venetta recommends working closely with your child’s school and asking for support. “I would advise parents to get a plan in writing which includes review meetings.  Alongside informing professionals, parents should also document everything so that any possible court action re attendance may be challenged.”  Parents must remember that they have a duty to ensure their child receives an education, but if this duty is being affected by other factors, they are well within their rights to request support from the school.  If this support is not forthcoming, parents/carers may find an intermediary such as the SEND lead for their locality or the SENDIAS service (formerly Parent Partnership) helpful, or they could self-refer to MAST.

Specialist services

The Home and Hospital Education Service, now known as the Becton Hospital and Outreach Team, is a service that provides support. This team works with children or young people whose education is affected by health issues (including mental health issues).  Access to support from the team presumes that parents/carers have already sought support and advice from a medical consultant or CAMHS and the referral provides evidence of this.  Getting the necessary appointments for these can take some time. Therefore, when a child begins to refuse to attend, parents should raise the issue as soon as possible with school and any relevant SEND support teams.

The Becton Hospital and Outreach Team do educate children at home if there is a medical reason which prevents them being out of the home; for example, if they are immune suppressed.  Otherwise support is provided in small groups settings.  The Outreach Team will work with children until the child is ready to reintegrate back into school, but they do not offer permanent schooling.

Educating at home

When parents take on the responsibility to provide a full time education, they do so with the understanding that they will be expected to provide for the needs of their child.  If there is a statement or Education, Health and Care Plan, the SEN Assessment and Placement Team remains involved but the responsibility now falls on the parent.

If parents feel that they may need to take this option due the problems they are experiencing, Venetta Buchanan is available to offer further advice.  Venetta notes: “I can talk them through the process and also attend meetings in school to try to reduce the incidents of parents feeling they have been forced down this pathway.  Parents must remember that a child cannot be taken off roll without their permission and they should not be persuaded to do so.”

Parents may also wish to contact Fiona Nicholson, a former home educator in Sheffield who now writes about home education and special needs; she can help put you in contact with other home-educating families. You can find Fiona’s websites here: www.ehe-sen.org.uk and http://edyourself.org

Key contacts

MAST: 0114 205 3158
Educational Psychology Service: 0114 250 6800
Autism Team helpline (1-4pm, term time only): 0114 273 6567
Becton Hospital and Outreach Team: 0114 255 7679
SEN Assessment and Placement Team: 0114 273 6394
Venetta Buchanan, Advisory Teacher for Elective Home Education: 0114 203 7141
Sheffield SENDIAS: 0114 273 6009

By Stuart Williams, Principal Educational Psychologist