Monday, October 02, 2023

Reasons for increasing rates of school refusal

The House of Commons Education Select Committee recently published its report on ‘Persistent absence and support for disadvantaged pupils’. It decided to investigate the causes and possible solutions to the growing numbers of children absent from school. 

Authorised absences was the main driver over unauthorised absences. Prior to the pandemic, absence and persistent absence had been gradually declining since 2010, but the Committee found no significant improvement in the speed and scale of rate reduction since the pandemic.

The department of education is planning to improve its data collection on school absences, but I have not seen any analysis of variation between schools. Technically, authorised absences are usually due to school refusal, an emotional problem, or other illnesses, and unauthorised absences to truancy, a conduct problem, in terms of the way this differentiation has traditionally been made in psychiatric classification. 

Such emotionally based conditions as school refusal are very much subject to social factors. For example, psychiatrists in the second world war working with units in the field became aware there were certain battalions in which individual breakdown was common and others in which it was rare. Tom Main, who after the war was the Medical Director at the Cassel Hospital in London, with others, tried to find out what made this difference. They recognised the ways in which the morale of battalions affected the mental health of the individuals who comprised them. The structure of battalions were by their nature the same and any difference seemed to be more intangibly due to human relations inside the social structure. In the same way, I’m sure that some schools manage school refusal better than others. 

I’ve mentioned before the apparent mental health crisis of young people (see previous post) with increasing numbers of referrals, of which increasing school refusal is part. As I said then, "The mental health system is clearly not functioning for young people”. Let’s hope the focus on reducing school refusal is on social measures to reduce it, such as improving morale in schools, rather than ploughing more money unnecessarily into expecting mental health services to have panaceas that can solve the problem.

No comments: