Define Fine:  Parent Peer Support for School Attendance Difficulties

Define Fine:  is a parent/carer-led organisation set up in response to the growing number of children and young people who experience school attendance difficulties. This is sometimes referred to as ‘school refusal’, or emotionally based school avoidance however these phrases may not explain the full picture of the barriers to attendance which  may be due to any number of complex reasons such unmet Special Educational Needs & Disabilities including physical or mental illness, either suspected or diagnosed, bullying or issues relating to academic pressure, or even the school environment*.

We are also keen raise awareness of attendance difficulties and work with professionals and decision-makers, locally and nationally, to reduce the numbers of children experiencing attendance difficulties, and ensure they are able to access a suitable education.

School attendance difficulties are complex but all too often these children are described as being “fine” when they are in school.  Define Fine has produced resources based on relevant government policies and guidance, to help parents and their families to work with professionals to assess and then plan appropriate and timely support.

Define Fine: Parent Peer Support for School Attendance Difficulties

We are here to support parent carers and professionals to find solutions for children and young people who struggle with school attendance difficulties. The sooner we work together to work out why school is so difficult for them, the sooner we can plan a way forward.

Most of our children and young people want to attend school but just can’t. They may have barriers to attendance that need to be acknowledged and understood. Only then can an effective plan can be made.

In our Facebook Group we have regular Webinars for advice and support with Question and Answer sessions led by our Define Fine Team, and in collaboration with other colleagues.

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Is my child or young person really Fine In School ?  Define Fine.

Increasingly parents of children who struggle at school with SEND, health problems, or bullying are reporting that their children are described as being ‘fine at school’.

If this happens it may be helpful for parents and other professionals to ask for clarification and consideration of the following points.

Before describing a child or young person as being fine in school could you please make sure:

  • You have a good working definition of the world ‘fine’ and that you have gathered enough evidence as to why you make that claim or assumption
  • You are qualified to make that statement, or that s/he has been properly observed and assessed by someone who is
  • You know him or her well enough, or have listened to and considered descriptions of their difficulties by someone who does
  • You have considered the impact of any diagnosed or suspected SEND, including the possibility that s/he may be masking their difficulties at school
  • You have considered the impact of this assumption on the child or young person’s well-beingPlease be aware of the implications of describing children as ‘fine’ when in fact they may not be, as this can result in a child or young person being:
  • Less likely to be able to attend school regularly
  • Less likely to be diagnosed or receive treatment and therefore more likely to deteriorate, or beharmed by inappropriate expectations and plans
  • More vulnerable to bullying
  • More vulnerable to deteriorating mental and physical health
  • At risk of further long term difficulties.

Please remember:

Any difficulties are unlikely to go away without reasonable adjustments or specific interventions
Disputing the difficulties denies the child and family access to relevant support, including SEN funding,top up funding, EHCP and ultimately a suitable education.

The Send Code of Practice emphasises the need to listen to, and work with children and their parents. For a child to be ‘fine’ in school their needs must be acknowledged and supported
in line with government guidance and policies.

There also needs to be increased accountability in relation to how schools put guidance and policies into practice. Parents and schools need to work together to make sure schools are adequately funded to do this.

Only then will the many children and young people who are Not Fine in School receive the education they are entitled to, whilst still valuing their right to be healthy , mentally and physically, and allowed to develop, and ultimately achieve their potential.

Is a my child really fine in school?

Unless you have experienced extreme school refusal or attendance difficulties it is hard to understand the situation. The whole family can be affected both on a practical or emotional level.  One parent may not be able to continue to go to work. Maybe there are other children who need to get to school by a certain time and are delayed.  It can be really hard  to see a child expressing their distress responses at not coping with school attendance

Some professionals are at a loss to know how to help. They may try to help with advice based on their understanding or opinions. Really plans should be child led, and evidence based approaches. So many of our parents report being referred onto parenting courses, and or to Early help, only to find that the support they are offered aren’t suitable for these kinds of difficulties. Its important to work with professionals and share recommendations for exploring the issues and in making a plan.

As Parents with lived experience we know that one of the most helpful things for us was to know that we were not alone.  Peer Support is vital.  This is why we have formed Define Fine.  We have a new and growing  private facebook group where we are able to share advice and support, and will be soon be launching our peer support training programme , where we will  share  resources to help our parents to advocate for their children with professionals .