School Refusal – A sign of the Times?

Our journey into home educating began due to school refusal and although many autistic children like my son struggle with the school enviroment, school refusal and school related anxiety is on the increase in children with and without additional needs. This leads me and many like me to wonder why? Over the last year or so I have searched for clues as to what went wrong. There are many possible reasons of course, not just one, some of which were obvious but perhaps others that are more hidden.

In his first month of home education my son wrote this piece for his thoughts and feelings book and I think it offers a lot of clues to how some children now perceive school;


They are controlled and paid for by the government – just like prison.

They shut you in and tell you how long you have to stay there – just like prison.

You stay in the room they tell you to – just like prison

They tell you when you are allowed to go outside – just like prison

You have to do everything they tell you or be punished – just like prison.

You have to wear a uniform – just like prison.

There are people who watch you and make sure you are doing what you are told and not trying to escape (teachers and TA’s) – Just like prison.

I think schools are exactly like prisons for children.

My son was just 10 years old at the time and reading it sent a shiver down my spine. Imagine if this was your life and how you felt about where you spent every week day, wouldn’t you get depressed, anxious and lose interest in life?

How changes over the years have affected the learning experience

Perhaps reading what you have so far you think I am anti-school? Actually nothing could be further from the truth, I have worked in the past as a TA and believe passionately in education. What I have come to realise however, is that in recent years mainstream schools have evolved through necessity because of government funding and legislation changes, but seemingly without giving much thought to how that affects the experience of those learning and working within them.

Class sizes getting bigger, a higher percentage of SEN students in mainstream (with little extra training or support for teachers), more homework at primary level, children often travelling further to school due to OFSTED reports, teachers added work load, the national curriculum, increase in testing and funding being stretched – these are just a few of the ways things have changed and that have potentially impacted on children’s school experience.

Teacher lack the freedom to be as flexible as they could be in the past

I was a shy child with undiagnosed dyslexia when I went to school back in the late 70’s, I struggled socially but loved learning. This was due in large part to the amount of flexibility teachers were allowed in those days. I remember one primary teacher who particularly inspired me by allowing me to bring my rabbits in once a week for the class to handle and learn about. It was instant kudos for me and helped me make friends, increased my confidence and inspired me to write stories about my pets so improving my literacy, she even entered one of my stories into a competition which I ended up winning. I probably would not be writing this blog (ie writing for pleasure) without Mrs Samuels. This is just one example of how allowing teachers to have greater autonomy and smaller classes helped to tailor my learning, as well as that of many others, enabling each child to learn in their own way.

Children are switching off

In contrast my son went off to school with a love of books, a positive attitude and a desire to learn, great interest in music and art, a desire to make friends, a love of nature and outdoors, good manners and a happy outlook as well as (at that time) undiagnosed dyslexia and autism/PDA. By the time he was deregistered 5 years later he was phobic about reading, given up on music and art, socially isolated, threatening self harm and unable to leave the house.

There is no doubt that the reasons for this alarming increase in school refusal and phobia are complexed and varied but they can not begin to be fixed until the focus is returned to the very individuals whose rights and welfare our state education was originally started to protect – our children.

10 thoughts on “School Refusal – A sign of the Times?

  1. Deb (MumForAutism) Apr 25, 2018 — 8:48 am

    I’ve experienced very similar with my two autistic children. By the time they were 9 or 10 they were unwell and school phobic so much so that their functioning deteriorated. My son eventually went to a special school for autistic students. With regards to my daughter, I home educated her mainly because we could find no suitable provision and this was after trying mainstream, special school, a PRU and LA home tutoring service. She was also too traumatised to engage with formal learning and none of the schools we tried out were able or willing to provide the sort of education she needed (plus they had little idea of how to support her). We tried out different approaches at home but soon realised emulating school wasn’t working as it was taking my daughter back to a bad place. We unschooled instead and slowly my daughter started to recover and rediscover her curiosity and interest in learning about the world around her, the things that school had crushed. With very gentle encouragement and impromptu discussion she started to learn about the world, politics, animals and IT. More importantly she started to regain her health. However, whilst we’re now in a better place I am deeply concerned about the long-term damage the schooling system has done to my children.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Deb, it sounds like you and your family have really been through it. Your daughter’s journey sounds very much like my son’s. You are so right that the trauma experienced can take years to recover from and it is not right that any child should have to go through it, It sounds like you are doing an amazing job and I am so glad to hear that your children are both in musch better places emotionally and educationally now.


  2. Reblogged this on School Refusal Families and commented:
    This is an excellent analysis of why there are more children struggling to attend school now

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so similar to our experience. There was so much pressure on attendance and even after I took my daughter out of school with the full backing of CAMHS and the paediatrician the EWOs would not back off or leave me alone. The school were absolutely obsessed with attendance, task driven teaching and their stupid “outstanding behaviour” nonsense that they refused to see the damage they were doing. My daughter could do nothing right in their eyes and needed to be punished, they also expected ME to be complicit in their regime. It was bullying plain and simple.


    1. so sorry to hear what you and your daughter have been through. It is happening to so may parents and their children. There needs to be a major shift in thinking and attitudes in education for the sake of all children and most of all those with a SEN. Is she home educated now? How is she doing?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. She’s been at home for a year now and is doing so much better, thank you, but she is also now quite isolated (as am I), as she finds it really hard to make friends and attend groups. After a lot of wrangling with the LA she has a brilliant EOTAS home tutor, who really understands the importance of working with her special interests. She now has a laptop and her written English came on leaps and bounds within a few months of being out of school and being able to write what she wanted rather than following some arbitrary agenda. In some areas she’s massively ahead in others really quite behind, but mentally she’s in a different place altogether; v few meltdowns/shutdowns, a much happier little girl.


    1. I am so glad to hear that she is happier. I think it is quite normal to have a variable amount of skills across different areas when in home ed as it allows the child to really soar in areas they already have an interest in or talent for and often the rest follows on the back of that confidence but even if it doesn’t then they still develop the skills in their areas of specialty to go forward with that as adults and be sucessful and happy.


  5. I suffered dyslexia myself and was told by my English professor in college that I was the worst reader he had ever seen. I was diagnosed with a learning disability and switched majors to family behavior and dance therapy which landed me a job as an autistic therapist after graduation. The whole approach to autism now with ABA has become my prison. I am no longer able to counsel autistic families the way God led me to unless i get the governmental required license. So here it is, 23 years later and God has brought me right back to my original love for writing so I can combine it all in ways to help others without submitting to a system that wants to control others. I am praying for your insight and bless it!


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