Children and young people with mental health problems are more likely to miss school – this can be for a variety of reasons.


But research has shown a clear link between school absence and academic attainment. Children and young people who regularly miss school may also feel more socially isolated as a result.

What does absenteeism include?

School absenteeism can refer to when children and young people are:

  • given permission to not attend school, for example due to illness
  • absent without being given permission (for example, unauthorised school absences, which may include staying at home to look after a parent)
  • absent from school because they refuse to go
  • excluded for a short or long period of time – or excluded permanently.

If a child or young person is “persistently absent” it means they have missed 10% or more of the school year.  

Why and how do children and young people avoid school?

There are many different risk factors associated with children and young people missing school. They include:

  • having a mental health condition
  • having family problems
  • having a negative attitude towards school
  • drug and alcohol abuse

There are many ways that a child or young person may avoid going to school – for example, through:

  • missing school on purpose (entire school days and/or individual lessons)
  • crying or tantrums
  • hiding and running away
  • refusing to move
  • begging a parent to let them stay at home
  • complaining of aches and pains before school – illness which get better once a child stays at home
  • showing high levels of anxiety
  • making threats to harm themselves.

What schools and further education settings can do

  • Monitor, record and follow up absences
    Monitor, record and make sure all absences are effectively followed up in accordance with the school’s attendance policy. Schools and colleges can work with the pupil to set attendance and achievement goals, and also develop a realistic plan for improving attendance.
  • Contact parents and carers
    Good parent engagement is essential to helping prevent and reduce rates of unauthorised school absences. Schools and colleges need to communicate the importance of consistent attendance and provide an open-door policy to discuss problems and address any issues early on. It’s helpful to work jointly with both families and the pupil in a non-judgmental manner to understand underlying drivers and to problem-solve solutions.
  • Know where to seek support
    If the drivers for absence link to:
  • challenges in the pupil’s life or to mental health difficulties - help children get extra support through counselling
  • school issues - work with the family and child to problem-solve ways forward
  • family pressures - work with parents and carers to explore local parenting support organisations and to access national initiatives to support families with multiple needs.

Emotionally-based school avoidance: free resource

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