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.


Define Fine:  What are some of the Barriers to School Attendance

  • Unmet Special Educational Needs and Disabilites, in part due to inadequate support, insufficient training,  and resources in school.
  • Autism and/or ADHD, and other neurodivergence, Pathological Demand Avoidance, Avoidance due to Oppositional Defiance or Rejection sensitivity
  • ODDCommunication and interaction difficulties
  • Friendship difficulties
  • Sensory processing difficulties or sensory overload
  • Dyslexia, executive functioning, working memory and processing difficulties.
  • Sleep onset disorders
  • Health conditions – physical and mental health exacerbated by NHS referral thresholds, and long waiting times for both mental and physical health
  • appointments for diagnoses and treatment
  • Invisible illness or rare diseases
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome /ME
  • Social phobia, separation anxiety, or fear of leaving security to family and/or home
  • Difficulty with transitions, primary to secondary or to a new school
  • Trauma – including PTSD and school trauma-Difficult Family relationships or living conditions
  • Illness or death of family member, parents relationship break down
  • Bullying by other pupils or even teachers
  • Bad experiences at previous schools.
  • The organisation of the school – environmental, or timetabling
  • Insufficient pastoral care support
  • Not feeling safe at school.
  • Stress possibly affecting health in other ways such as resulting reduced immunity to childhood illnesses
  • Academic Pressures including testing and assessment

As reported by members of the School Refusal Support Services for Phobia, Refusal and Separation Anxiety Facebook Group
and the Not-Fine-in-School-March-2020-Parent-survey

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 .