Please note that all guidance in relation to education is based on laws and guidelines in relation to England. If you live in Wales, N. Ireland of Scotland please find the relevant Sen Code of Practice in my blogroll on the RHS of the page.
School refusal or as I prefer to term it school phobia is a common problem for many children with PDA. For a child with PDA this refusal is often steeped in high anxiety and an inability to cope with the pressures of the school day and all of the demands that this may entail. This is therefore a health and a special education needs issue and not a truancy issue and should therefore be treated as such by the local authority.
Therefore it is essential for parents to fully educate themselves on their rights and the duties of their local authority in order to become empowered in these situations and to not feel intimidated by threats of fines or prosecution. The Local Authority, the school and the other professionals involved in your case should be supporting you, working with you to solve the issue, listening to you and taking your concerns seriously and should not be threatening you with fines and prosecution. In fact the local authority should be providing your child with an education at home in the interim rather than blaming you for your child not currently being educated.
Yes, if the child is registered on the school roll then it is in everyone’s best interests, including the interests of the child, for school attendance to be re-established. However it is not in the best interests of the child for school attendance to be re-established as quickly as possible without the correct support being put in place first. A carefully planned transition back into the school placement is often also required so that the child can take small baby steps and gradually re build their confidence and trust in the school.
The child with PDA will often only have a very limited ability to be affected by the mistakes of others and not getting things right as soon as possible could cause the situation to become irreversible. Therefore time is not of the essence but patience and the correct support package is.
A child with PDA who is school refusing cannot be forced into school by their parents due to the huge detriment that this could potentially cause to the child’s emotional well-being and to the long term damage that this could cause. Mistakes made at this stage could cause the child to become a long term and permanent school refuser, so treading carefully and slowly now could make all of the difference for the child’s ability to attend school in the future.
What you need to do if your child is school refusing.
- Inform the school immediately and explain why your child is unable to attend. School phobia, anxiety and depression all fall under health and are legitimate reasons for your child to be off school. It is helpful, but not always essential, to try to provide the school with some kind of medical evidence in the form of a GP note, letter from CAMHS. If your child has a diagnosis of an ASC/PDA, then this fact in itself may be all the evidence you need because many of the behaviours of individuals with PDA are steeped in high anxiety.
- If you don’t have a diagnosis or any professional input at this stage then make an appointment with your GP with a view to enlist the help and support of CAMHS or other mental health professionals. Simply being in the system and being seen to be pursuing professional help will assist you to validate what you are reporting to the school re your child’s mental health issues.
- Keep all contact with the school via email so that there is a paper trail of your efforts to keep the school informed. Also keep the school informed of methods that you have tried in order to assist your child back into school and keep them updated of how your child is coping and the steps/measures that you are taking to try to solve this issue. E.G. GP appointments and so on.
- If your child cannot attend school due to a health problem E.G. anxiety, depression, school phobia or school refusal, after 15 days the council must intervene and provide a suitable education. The education arranged by the local authority should be on a full time basis, unless, in the interests of the child, part-time education is considered to be more suitable. This would be for reasons relating to the child’s mental health. The local authority should provide a minimum of five hours per week but in the case of a school refuser or school phobic councils should not assume that this is adequate. The hours allocated to a child should be regularly reviewed and adjusted in accordance with how much the child can manage.
- Apply for an Education, Health & Care Plan assessment in order to access support and funding for your child within the school placement. This is likely to be initially refused but then follow the process through. Request mediation and if this fails request a mediation certificate and appeal the decision. For many children with PDA maintaining a healthy attendance record at school while simultaneously ensuring that the child’s emotional well-being is being adequately catered for may require additional funding and support in the form of an EHCP.
- The LA may feel that the school need to provide a graduated approach to your child’s needs prior to agreeing to assess for an EHCP. In some cases it may be that the time for a graduated approach has passed and that the child now needs substantial support.
The source for this information is ‘Local Government OMBUDSMAN – Out of school…….out of mind? Focus Report: learning lessons from complaints. Focus-report-Out-of-school-Sept-2011 I would advise any parents who are experiencing issues leading to school refusal or who are considering removing their child from school until appropriate provision is put into place for their child to read this document fully and in depth.
This report also features lots of other advice and information re other reasons why a child may not be in school and what the duties of the local authority are, including if the child has being permanently excluded. It also features very useful and informative case studies of when local authorities have not responded accordingly with their duty to provide a suitable education for children who are out of school.
If you feel that your local authority is not fulfilling their duty to provide your child with an education while they are unable to attend school the first thing to do is to make a Formal Complaint to your local authority. If they do not uphold your complaint you can then make a complaint to your local government ombudsman. Making a Complaint
In some cases you may be able to take your local authority to Judicial Review but you would need to appoint a solicitor to do this for you.
If you have the available finances or you are eligible for legal aid it may be beneficial to appoint a specialised SEN solicitor to guide you through the process as soon as you begin experiencing difficulties.
The following solicitors specialise in SEN but you would need to contact them directly in order to ensure if they accept legal aid. Also I cannot guarantee the quality of these services.
For more advice on SEN please visit IPSEA, Send code of practice, SEN SOS and National Autistic Society – Helpline – Educational Rights
For advice on suitable strategies within education please visit Videos 6, 7, 8 and 9 by Neville Starnes, Education and handling strategies by Phil Christie and Education booklet by Positive PDA