In this week’s podcast Dale Pickles from B Squared is joined by Sarah Jane Critchley to discuss school refusals, school phobia and illness. Sarah-Jane has the benefit of both a professional AND personal perspective.

Sarah-Jane was previously the Programme Manager for over 10 years at the Autism Education Trust. Pupils with autism often struggle with attending school for a number of reasons. Her daughter Beth has autism and also suffers from migraines which meant from Year 3 onwards she missed a lot of school and missed over 50% of her GCSE classes, eventually dropping out of school in year 12.

Schools are struggling with an increase in mental health issues in pupils, with escalating numbers of young people unable to attend school as a result. As many as 1:10 pupils were recorded as absent from school in 2016/17. Children not in school, unless they are electively home educated, get offered less education at a lower level with a knock-on effect on their long-term outcomes.

If children are unable to attend school it has a catastrophic effect on the family, often resulting in parents being unable to maintain employment and tipping the family into economic disadvantage.

Where a child’s needs are clearly not being met in school, attendance is often impacted, their educational and life outcomes are seriously affected.

Some parents have children who are so anxious they are unable to attend school. In some cases this has led to families being taken to court when the school has made little attempt to work with the family.

School refusal is an odd term. It implies they are simply deciding not to go to school. For lots of pupils it is not a choice, they cannot cope with school. In this podcast we discuss a variety of reasons a pupil doesn’t/cannot attend school. We discuss how a school’s attitude to a pupils attendance can make a big difference. A child may present themselves as being happy at school, but present themselves very differently at home. They may use all their energy coping with school life and run out of energy when they get home. Schools and parents have to work in partnership to move forward.

There are also a number of options for pupils who are unable to attend school full time. We explore dual registration, flexi-schooling, hospital schools, online schools, home education and visiting tutors. There are a number of options, some may be short term, others could be longer.

Useful Links

DfE Attendance Guidance –

Not Fine in School website for parents and professionals –

Emotional Distress Detector Toolkit –

How to contact Sarah-Jane:

Twitter: @SarahJaneCritch



For more podcast episodes from the SENDcast click below…

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