Research School Network: Helping all children to be fine in school, all the time Anxiety, school refusal and its wider effects


Helping all children to be fine in school, all the time

Anxiety, school refusal and its wider effects

by Unity Research School
on the


A report in 2018 by parents in Suffolk highlighted the impact of school-based anxiety and school refusal. 41% described support and understanding they received generally from schools and/​or services as poor. 

School Refusal how supported were you by your school slide
PACT Report

Suffolk has an increasing number of parents electing to home educate. There is no comprehensive data for the reasons for de-registration, but anxiety’ has been identified by parents. In 2017, Suffolk issued five times the number of penalty notices for non-attendance than the national average – highlighted by parent groups as a factor in opting to home-school.

Anxious teen WIDE

A joint CQC/​Ofsted Local Area SEND inspection identified significant weaknesses in meeting children’s needs, reporting both parental dissatisfaction regarding provision for children with SEN and lack of timely access to assessments for support for SEN and mental health.

Unity’s Response

A meeting with the authors of the report and the training officer from SENDIASS1 led to a plan for a problem-solving workshop involving parents and practitioners. This coincided with the publication of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) guidance report Working with parents to support children’s learning’ and saw us modelling recommendations one and two in particular (summary link here).

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As a result:

  • Officers from the Local Authority agreed to support the workshop. Educational psychologists offered to facilitate using PATH3, a creative planning tool that uses both process and graphics to produce a shared vision. 
  • Information for this free workshop was sent out via Headteacher Associations, PACT2 (Parents and Carers Together), Not Fine in School

The resulting workshop

We implemented a workshop at which 8 primary schools, 1 special school and 5 secondary schools were represented by parents, governors and school staff. Health professionals also attended. The PATH process kept the event focused and positive, resulting in engaging and honest discussions about practice which is supportive as well as identifying the challenges. Copies of the EEF guidance report were provided for those attending and introduced as a clear, actionable resource for guiding next steps. The PATH process captured valuable discussions:

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The impact

  • The People Participation Lead for Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health Trust is inviting participants from the workshop to co-produce a set of strategies for a training programme to address some of the issues raised at the workshop
  • Unity Schools Partnership is to follow this up including dedicated workshops at our Trust PD day conference in January
  • All participants will be contacted to find out about developments they have initiated following the workshop which can be shared.

This is an ongoing project and we are keen to share reflections of our process and content as we continue to evolve the plans.

1 SENDIASS – Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Service

2 PACT – Parents And Carers Together

3Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope

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