Emotionally Based School Refusal

Inclusive Policies for Emotionally Based School Refusal

by Pam F.

“Everyone Matters!”

Secondary schools have become larger, busier and noisier places. Many children find this an unsuitable learning environment. The number of GCSE subjects children are expected to sit has increased dramatically in recent years, increasing stress on young people, seemingly because of an obsession with league tables. This obsession has led some schools to now expect young people to start their GCSE subjects at an even younger age, but it is no use having a school offering a whole host of GCSEs if a child is too frightened to get through the door.

  • Labour’s education policy on EBSR must recognise that:
  • Comprehensive education provides quality education for all.
  • Children who miss an education miss many of life’s opportunities.
  • Both small and larger schools can be comprehensive as well as inclusive.
  • Children learn when they’re happy, nurtured and feel safe.
  • Staff awareness of the early signs of EBSR is essential.
  • Flexibility and co-operation of everyone is key to helping all children succeed.
  • The curriculum a child follows needs to be appropriate, and considerations should be made for in context of their ability and of their health.

Labour’s strategy will be to ensure EBSR is recognised early, and that multi professional teams work together closely ensuring an inclusive outcome.

Qualified professionals should feel confident that their assessments are valued and trusted.

So what is EBSR?

Between 2-5% of children suffer from Emotionally Based School Refusal (EBSR) (1)

According to Anxiety UK (5), up to 1-6 children suffer from anxiety of some kind at some time in their lives.

EBSR differs from truancy as unlike truants, EBSR sufferers may exhibit:

•            Severe difficulty in attending school—often amounting to prolonged absence

•            Severe emotional upset—shown by such symptoms as excessive fearfulness, undue tempers, misery, or complaints of feeling ill without obvious organic cause on being faced with the prospect of going to             school.

•            Staying at home with the knowledge of the parents, when they should be at school, at some stage in the course of the disorder.

•            Absence of significant anti-social disorders such as stealing, lying, wandering, destructiveness and   sexual misbehaviour.

If EBSR is not recognised early enough, children can become more isolated, more anxious. The anxiety can intensify if the child gets further behind at school. Some children may never leave their homes and may be unwilling to attend CAMHS appointments. Such a child being taught on a 1:1 basis at home for prolonged periods may become increasingly socially withdrawn. Furthermore, such provision is expensive and unsustainable as well as inadequate and often inappropriate.

  • Triggers causing EBSR vary and may indeed not be school based:
  • School Transfer (especially Y 6 an Y7)
  • Anxiety about the journey to school
  • Educational demands
  • The unpredictability of teacher’s demands or the school environment
  • Bullying or the fear of being bullied
  • Social Factors
  • Traumatic events within the family
  • A young person’s own long-term illness

Appropriate support put in early enough to assist a return to school is much more likely to be successful. Studies and workshops (2,3,4,) have produced some very helpful advice for schools and parents, but provision for EBSR varies widely throughout the nation. I would like to see Labour’s policy ensure provision is inclusive providing access to the curriculum and support from a range of multi-professional agencies working together. If the mainstream school environment itself or the nature of the curriculum is deemed to contribute to anxiety, then schools will need to recognise the need for flexibility and make adjustments, rather than the “one-size fits all policy”. Inclusion is about access to education and to society, it is not necessarily therefore to involve a large secondary school. Training of teaching staff and close co-operation of multi-professional teams is essential.

It is also concerning that EBSR can run in families, and therefore suffered by successive generations. The implication is clear, in that the social exclusion may continue into adult life, having further impact on mental health, on employment prospects, and the long-term quality of life for a whole family. The consequences could be depression, unemployment, and poverty and even suicide. It is not something to be ignored, however tempting it might seem to a teacher who does not have awareness of the condition to say, “Snap out of it.” It is unlikely to go away without intervention.

Labour’s caring, inclusive approach is the way forward. Every child matters, and so does every family. But schools need to be allowed the freedom of flexibility, so as to ensure the appropriate solution is found for each anxious child exhibiting EBSR.

Schools and health professionals working with them need to be reassured, to know that Labour trusts their assessments without looking over their shoulders at league tables,  the arbitrary targets to which “New Labour” adhered and which restricted the approaches that professionals could take.

Our future society cannot afford to miss out the contributions lost to our society, caused by these damaged lives and failed opportunities. We want a Labour Party that creates a fair society in which all  people can look forward to satisfying lives. We want a Labour Party that is totally committed to the belief  that “Everyone Matters”.

References re EBSR: (Emotionally Based School Refusal)

1. Mary B Wimmer PhD, Understanding School Refusal

2. http://www.social-emotional-learning-update.com/node/6735

Helpful strategies from Social and Emotional Learning Update

3. EBSR,  West Sussex Guidance for Schools, 2004

4. North Somerset Council, Every Child Matters, EBSR

Guidance for Schools pupils and families

5. Anxiety UK


11 thoughts on “Emotionally Based School Refusal

  1. another bloody good blog! My son was home educated as a result of bullying, he was a nervous wreck. He took 5 gcse’s at college later and has now started his ‘a’ levels. I swear I have a better person today in my son than if i would have put him through five years of misery.


  2. Are you talking about EHE, elective home education, or home tuition from LEA EOTAS (Education Other Than at School) service? State provision is a postcode lottery, but an entitlement. Not all parents have the skills to provide education.


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  5. Excellent piece. About time this problem was recognised rather than children being labelled as manipulative, and parents as ineffective so that professionals dont have to take the child’s educational needs seriously.


    • It is rarely understood, or taken seriously. All children should be regarded as individuals, they are not all the same. Also children with ME are often considered to have “school phobia” when they have a genuine physical illness – they are not “shirkers”. The Daily Mail has a lot to answer for.


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