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They're not in school again

Updated: Jul 6, 2022

There is ever-growing anecdotal evidence that full-time school attendance is a challenge for many pupils. We have certainly come across this more within our work in the last year.

Research has shown that children and young people have often been perceived as holding

the problem of school non-attendance and that they need to change in order for things to get better. However, there are many factors that can lead to school non-attendance and it takes a collaborative effort to improve school attendance.

There are different reasons for school non-attendance including:

  • Medical: The child or young person is experiencing a chronic or acute medical condition meaning that attendance at school is not possible. Often medical professionals are involved in support of the child and hospital schools can provide supplementary education where appropriate.

  • Adult condoned non-attendance: The child or young person’s care givers are in support (actively or passively) of the child not attending school. This can take place due to supported non-attendance or through more significantly negative relationship dynamics such as Munchausen’s by proxy, for example.

  • Emotionally based school avoidance (EBSA): The child or young person experiences elevated levels of stress and anxiety in relation to being in the school environment, employing avoidance as a way of mitigating the anxious feelings. This however feeds into a cycle of avoidance and increased anxiety about facing school, driving further avoidance.

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted evermore that children and young people learn and engage with learning in different ways. With lockdowns and the subsequent reopening of society, some children and young people may have experienced other ways of learning (e.g., smaller groups, primarily on their own, increased freedom in topics etc.) and so reintegrating back into the school environment has been a greater challenge for them.

There are many factors that can influence, trigger and maintain the cycle of EBSA and as educators, it is important to consider these before planning ways forward. One way of doing this is through ensuring you S.P.A.R.E T.I.M.E to consider your approach to EBSA in your school. Our S.P.A.R.E T.I.M.E framework is a detailed overview of the key things educators can do to ensure the early identification of potential EBSA. Click below to download the full framework.

Download PDF • 145KB


It is good to document the differing factors as you gather information on a child’s experience of EBSA to ensure a holistic view of the child and their current situation. Using a push-pull factors framework can enable you to unpick what pushes a child towards school and what pulls them away from school. Seeing the balance or push-pull factors can enable supporting adults to not just look within the child but to consider their whole context. Click below to download the full framework.

Push and pull factors sheet
Download PDF • 351KB

So now what? How do you work towards building their attendance in school? Our online EBSA course is packed full of useful insights, information and tools to help you and your school with early identification, holistic information gathering and collaborative planning for pupils experiencing EBSA.

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