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What Is Emotionally Based School Avoidance?

If you are a parent or carer of a child or young person with Special Educational Needs (“SEN”) it is likely that you will have come across the term Emotionally Based School Avoidance (“EBSA”). This phrase has in recent years replaced the term “school refuser” to describe students who are unable, as opposed to unwilling, to attend educational placements for a variety of reasons. This is not a niche concern. The numbers of students persistenly absent, i.e. with an attendance rate of 90% or less, has increased significantly over recent years, and totalled over 1.6 million (equivalent to 22% of the school aged population) in the Autumn/Spring terms of 2021/2.

This change in language is important because, whilst not perfect, EBSA recognises, and seeks to locate, the source of the problem as being with the school and not the child or young person. It also acknowledges that mental health and wellbeing (often anxiety) are at the root of the phenomenon, and as such a trauma informed rather than behaviourist response is required. As ISPEA (Independent Provider of Special Educational Advice) have observed:

The issue of attendance can’t and shouldn’t be considered in isolation from other factors, such as what stops pupils with SEND attending school, what they struggle with, and whether the support they need is being provided”.

In response, many schools and local authorities are now starting to develop polices and practices to identify and support students experiencing or at risk of EBSA - although the government appears unfortunately to be going in the opposite direction. These can include quiet/safe spaces, strategies to develop emotional regulation and specific interventions such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy ("CBT") where appropriate. However, it remains the case that parents and carers often find that the greatest source of advice and information to help them navigate the practical and emotional apsects of living with EBSA, are other parents and carers and peer to peer organisations such as Not Fine In School and charities like SOS!SEN.

I.If your child is struggling to attend, or is currently out of school, SEND Advocacy can provide advice and support, including helping you to secure an Education Health and Care Needs Assessment. If you need someone in your corner to help you secure the education your child or young person deserves, contact us today.

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