What should we do if a child is struggling to attend school or college

Please open this link to our guide –  A Child is Struggling to Attend School  and share:
NFIS: Define Fine Schools Guide Summary V3

Support Mental Health Issues in Children & Young People
Children experience mental health difficulties for a range of complex reasons. The Government recommends that schools develop a mental health policy that creates an environment where young people with anxiety feel supported, understood, and able to seek help, making it more likely they will feel safe and able to attend school.

Assess for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
Many children have underlying SEND that may impact on their attendance unless they are supported. These difficulties include ADHD, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, Dyslexia, processing and working memory and other learning difficulties. SEND also includes Social, Emotional or Mental Health Difficulties, which may affect a child’s ability to establish friendships or to cope with a variety of strong emotions. All of these can increase a child’s vulnerability to bullying. Sometimes SEND may not have yet been assessed, nor identified. Schools must use their best endeavours and reasonable adjustments for children, with early intervention having the best outcomes.

Support Referrals to CAMHS & other Health Care Professionals
Where significant health problems occur, schools should facilitate a student’s access to more specialist support including Paediatricians, OT and SaLT. The school nurse or school staff can support or provide further evidence to expedite a referral. Parents can also ask for referrals through their GP or Paediatrician. Unfortunately, long wait times for referrals can compound the problem, but support from schools goes a long way to ensuring students gain access to necessary treatment.

Make a Referral for Assessment by an Educational Psychologist
An Educational Psychologist can assess a child’s barriers to learning child and recommend appropriate interventions. This input can be useful as being unable to attend school is often a symptom of a significant need or problem, maybe no yet identified, and therefore requires more specialist knowledge and recommendations.

Working together

Work together to produce a support plan
Struggling to attend school for whatever reason is a barrier to learning. It is important to ensure that children, their parents, school and if possible experienced health professionals participate as fully as possible in developing support plans that are flexible, child-led and individualised. Plans must be communicated to all staff and combined with relevant staff training and whole-school awareness. If children struggle to engage, they need patience and an experienced professional to help them access the right support. The earlier the better, as early intervention is crucial.

Social Care / Early Help Referrals
Families may benefit from early help support. Any referrals should be assessed quickly and thoroughly as school attendance difficulties are not necessarily safeguarding or parenting problems. It is vital that there is a multi-agency understanding of the issues and policies surrounding these difficulties. Any interventions must be led by professionals who are suitably qualified and experienced in SEND, mental health and school attendance difficulties.

Apply for an EHC Needs Assessment 
Apply for an EHCP Assessment An EHCP application is crucial if a school does not have the expertise or funding to fully identify a child’s needs, or to offer the provision or support a child requires to access an effective education. Parents can also make an application to the LA for an ECHP assessment, but a joint approach will be the most beneficial way forward.

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Explore your Local Authority’s Local Offer
Schools can collaborate with other local services and providers to meet individual needs effectively. The Local Offer can be an invaluable source of resources, information, advice and relevant support.

Provide Homework & Connections while the Student is unable to attend.
Not supplying learning opportunities, or connections during absence means a student may fall further behind, which can contribute to anxieties around returning to school. A school’s duty to educate does not stop because a student is absent due to illness such as SEND (diagnosed or not) or bullying. Schools should notify the LA a child is absent from school due to illness, or other reasons, over 15 days (consecutive or cumulative). The LA then have a duty to ensure that a child receives alternative educational provision whilst absent. Even if they are unable to attend school should still maintain connections.

Absence due to Physical or Mental Illness should be Authorised
Families need support rather than threats of fines or prosecution (which rarely help to resolve attendance difficulties). The potential legal implications of unauthorised absences will add to a child’s anxiety and substantially increase the difficulties families face. Consideration of the long waiting times and high thresholds for referrals to NHS specialists indicates that attendance cannot take priority over health needs.

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Give children and families a voice

Observe and Listen.

Trust is vital between home and school,  and all professionals.  Encourage parents to seek out peer support, including Define Fine:  Peer Support for School Attendance Difficulties

Most of all – make sure you check out what is meant by Fine.  Define Fine.

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 isn’t suitable for these kinds of difficulties.  It’s important to work with professionals and share recommendations for exploring the issues and in making a plan.

Each child and young person needs someone to listen, to advocate for their needs.  Quite often this is their parents, who have usually known the child for the longest, and probably know them the best.

If a child tries to explain what they find hard about the school, about learning, relationships, the environment – or whatever else they are struggling with they need to have a voice.   If they report bullying, including assault, this must be investigated and dealt with properly.

There will be a way forward, but it may not be the path they are currently on.  They may need adjustments or flexibility.  They may need somewhere or something else.

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