Article January 9, 2023
What to do if your child doesn’t want to go back to school
If your child doesn't want to go back to school this new year, you're not alone.
When Bev's daughter Katie began Year 9, she started to develop a rapidly worsening anxiety around going into school. "It had been a horrendous time for Katie and her anxiety and all the things she was going through was affecting the whole family," Bev told us.
Similarly, Sally explained that her daughter, Millie, was left without any education for nearly two years after her autism and anxiety made going to school too difficult.
These families are just two of many whose lives have been rocked by school avoidance. Thankfully, there are solutions. Here's our advice for understanding the problem, finding solutions, and when to consider alternative forms of education
Reframing the problem
If your child doesn’t want to go to school, a quick web search will likely bring up the term ‘school refusal‘. However, this phrase isn’t always accurate.
The word ‘refusal’ implies that your child is making a conscious, defiant choice to skip out on learning. However, in many cases, children refuse school because of emotions that are difficult to control, like fear and anxiety.
As such, many of today’s educators prefer to use the terms ‘school avoidance’, ‘school resistance’, ‘school anxiety’, or ‘school phobia’. Reframing the situation helps us to understand why children are really resisting going to school, and it’s the first step to getting on top of the problem.
Does my child have school phobia?
School avoidance doesn’t always manifest as a flat-out resistance to leaving the house. Even if your child does make it to school each day, there are other signs that can indicate a phobia or sense of anxiety.
Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar to you?
- Crying or meltdowns in the mornings
- Resistance to getting out of bed on time
- Begging and pleading to stay at home
- Repeatedly complaining of illnesses that soon disappear
- Skipping classes and truanting
You may also notice signs of trouble in your child’s demeanour and daily life, including:
- Struggling to keep up with homework
- An unexplainable drop in grades
- Acting out at home or at school
- Appearing withdrawn or depressed
- Not sleeping or eating well
Why do children avoid school?
School avoidance can happen suddenly or develop gradually, but the real underlying problem is often something happening at school or at home.
Common school-based triggers for resistance include:
- A poor result on a test
- Difficulty keeping up in class
- Bullying and teasing
- Difficulty making friends
- Bad relationships with specific teachers
- Fear of a specific activity, like getting changed in PE or reading aloud
At home, the core problem could be:
- Moving houses or changing schools
- Conflicts or illness in the family
- The death of a pet
- Big life changes, like the birth or adoption of a new sibling
Alongside life-related troubles, note that children with special education needs or disabilities (SEND) may be more likely to suffer from school phobia. Sadly, students with conditions such as ADHD, depression, and dyslexia can experience sensory overload and other educational difficulties in some school environments.
What can I do if my child won’t go to school? 4 steps to try
Every child needs and deserves an education, which is why it’s crucial to tackle school avoidance before it leads to learning loss. Fortunately, there are solutions. In many cases, your child may simply need a different form of education, but there are also steps you can try to get things working at their current school first.
1. Pinpoint the problems
Getting your child back to school starts with getting to the root of the problem. Talk to your child about why they don’t want to go to school. You may need to probe them with specific questions, or ask them to write or draw rather than speaking. Whatever the case, your child is the best person to explain what’s really going on.
2. Brainstorm solutions
Many problems behind school avoidance have clear solutions. For example, if your child doesn’t want to go to school because they’re scared of being late and getting detention, preparing for school before bedtime or walking to the bus stop together can help eliminate that worry. Alternatively, when your child is worried about something unchangeable, like an unwell grandparent at home, you can use self-regulation techniques like the worry tree to help them reduce those fears.
Ask your child whether they have any ideas to help them get back to school and come up with a few of your own. You may need to try a range of solutions, but in many cases, there’s a fix out there that will work for your family.
3. Stick to a routine
If your child won’t go to school at all and you need more time to try solutions, try to stick to a school-like routine at home during the interim period. Wake up, eat breakfast, and get dressed at the same time you would if you were going to school.
Then, make sure your child keeps up with learning activities throughout the day. Remember that educational videos, home experiments, and reading books are all legitimate forms of learning, and following your child’s unique learning style may help them regain a positive perspective on school.
Remember: It’s always important to let your child’s school know if your child can’t attend school, as well as why. Not only will this help the school to support you and your child through the difficult period, it’s also crucial for safeguarding reasons.
4. Talk to the school
If home solutions haven’t worked and your child is still resisting, it’s time to talk to the school in more depth.
Set up a meeting with your child’s year or form teacher, the school SENCO, or a pastoral lead — and remember to arrive armed with a list of your child’s problems and potential solutions. Asking the teacher or coordinator if they’ve noticed any other problems can also help you build a more well-rounded picture of why your child doesn’t want to attend.
Then, discuss potential solutions: both your ideas and theirs. Hopefully, by the end of the meeting, you’ll have agreed on a set of plans or changes to follow going forward. If your child has an IEP or EHCP, any new provisions should be formalised there.
Finally, agree on a date and time to follow up, to ensure that you won’t be left hanging if the changes don’t work. Remember, if you’re not happy with the school’s response, you’re entitled to escalate the situation to a higher power, whether that’s the headteacher or your local education authority.
Withdrawing from a school
Ultimately, if you’re still not making any headway, you may decide that your child needs a school setting that works better for them.
Moving away from a traditional school environment can be a difficult decision for any parent to make, you’re not alone if you’re worried. However, there are other ways for your child to get a great education that fits their needs, without sacrificing future prospects, socialisation, or any other crucial needs.
In fact, many parents say that moving to online schooling with King’s InterHigh was the best decision they made.
Why consider online school?
Online school can be a great option for students who have struggled with school anxiety or avoidance and need a new learning environment. Here are just a few reasons why King’s InterHigh works so well for our learners.
Comfortable, smooth transition
King’s InterHigh is designed to revolve around you, and students can take their online lessons from the comfort of their homes. This makes the transition to online school far smoother and more comfortable than the move to another physical school. Students can also join us at any time, avoiding any more missed school time, and we have a welcoming onboarding process to help them ease into their first days.
Flexible learning at your child’s pace
Flexibility is a huge plus for students who have struggled with school avoidance. At King’s InterHigh, your child can study from anywhere at any time.
Our experienced teachers hold every lesson live, but these classes are also recorded. If your child needs to take a mental health day or attend an appointment, they’ll be able to watch their missed lessons at any time through the student portal. The ability to rewatch classes is also perfect for learners who need to study at their own pace.
Comprehensive wellbeing support
Our wellbeing programme at King’s InterHigh includes workshops, vent groups, exam anxiety sessions, and more. With a range of resources and support mechanisms in place, you won’t need to worry about your child’s struggles going unnoticed again. We can catch any challenges before they become overwhelming and teach your child a range of methods to overcome them.
Freedom to follow your interests
If your child doesn’t want to go to school because they struggle with certain subjects, they’ll love the freedom on offer at King’s InterHigh. We have a wide range of subjects available for all age groups, including GCSE and A Level, without all the restrictions imposed in many mainstream schools. After selecting a core package, your child is free to choose any combination of courses they want to study.
Calm classrooms with no bullying
Our virtual classrooms are calm and free from distractions, which can be incredibly helpful for students who struggle with the noise of a typical lesson. King’s InterHigh is also ideal for learners who were resisting school due to bullying. We have a zero-tolerance policy for any form of harassment, as well as a wide variety of ways to calmly and effectively deal with classroom misbehaviour.
Plenty of ways to socialise
On a similar topic, don’t worry about your child not being able to make friends at King’s InterHigh. We offer a huge variety of online and offline community activities. Students can join online clubs tailored to almost any interest, from oil painting to Star Wars, as well as our safe, school-only social media platform. Every student is also assigned to a tight-knit house community, and we hold a range of events, competitions, and showcases throughout the year.
Exciting and inspiring learning model
At King’s InterHigh, our engaging education model has inspired many students to rediscover their love of learning. We combine expert teaching and traditional learning methods (like student collaboration) with cutting-edge technology and innovative approaches (like VR and educational apps).
Support for SEND
We also offer a range of SEND adjustments and accommodations to suit every individual. For example, students with anxiety can communicate and participate fully through text, without needing to use their webcams or microphones, until they adjust to the online environment. We can also onboard children gradually if they need more time to ease back into learning, starting with just a few lessons a week if necessary. Through it all, we continuously monitor students, work with families, and adjust accommodations as needed to make sure every learner is fully supported to thrive.
King’s InterHigh: The school that revolves around you
“The thing with Katie is that she was always really motivated. She wanted to learn she just couldn’t do it in the normal environment,” says Bev. Joining us from the start of Year 10, Katie’s education transformed from her first few weeks at King’s InterHigh. Learning began to work for her, and she made a great group of friends who she later got to meet in person at one of our activity weekends.
Even after years away from school, Millie was able to get back on track when she joined our community. She began slowly, attending just a few subjects with exemptions from submitting homework. However, Sally says that Millie soon began requesting homework herself. She began to excel at art as well as her academic subjects, and while she struggled to communicate and make friends in mainstream school, she began to love talking to her mum about all her new friends. “After all she has been through, this gives us so much happiness,” says Sally.
Book a discovery call with us to discuss your child’s unique needs and find out how King’s InterHigh could work for you.