school refusers

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School Refusal
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what happens when 'refusers' get older (long and negative post)


I wish I had found this forum several years ago when my youngest first began refusing school. It would have been helpful to have a virtual hand to hold.

My son is now 16 and began refusing school, due to anxiety, occasionally from Year 7 and then continuously from Year 9. We had a raft of professionals involved: Educational Social Workers, various teaching professionals from school, CAMHS professionals and so on. However, nothing really worked, even though my son tried his hardest.

Home tuition from a local PRU was arranged. My son hid from the tutors about 50% of the time and his avoidant behaviour became worse when there was a lack of consistency with respect to the tutors sent. Eventually, during the final terms of Year 11, he engaged with a designated tutor and began attending the PRU itself for one to one tuition for about five hours a week. He even sat two GCSEs there.

Although my son has a diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder and a 'working diagnosis' of ASD (he refuses formal assessment), his problems with engagement were attributed largely, by professionals, to a challenging situation in our family. Once that situation was stabilised, I think professionals expected my youngest to trot along to college as if nothing had happened.

However, inevitably, after a promising week at college, the refusal and lack of engagement started and he was told to leave the course and leave the college. He has an Education, Health and Care Plan and when we approached the Assessment and Review Officer for our LEA, we expected some sort of proactive response.

Yet, we were told that our son is 16, he has mental capacity and if he chooses not to engage or attend, there is nothing the LEA can do. As a Child in Need, we approached our son's social worker, who reiterated the statement, there was nothing the local authority could or should do.

So we have a ritual dependent, rather challenging young man at home, who has no social interaction with anyone outside the family and has just experienced total rejection from education and services. I am trying my hardest to expand his activities, but everything I have tried so far is met with refusal, avoidance or physical threats.

I really fear for my son. His brother (18) was also left completely without education when his school placement broke down in Years 10 and 11. He is now in a residential home for adults withe mental illness. I really fear this is what will happen to my youngest.

I am sorry that I have posted such a negative message on a support forum. However, I just feel the term 'school refusal' does not quite capture what most of us experience. For many people, our children are not just refusing school, they are 'refusing' to engage in anything outside their restricted safe activities and this refusal does not end when they 'leave' school. It may continue into adulthood with devastating effects on the individual's mental health and the family unit.

Re: what happens when 'refusers' get older (long and negative post)


I am glad you found the forum. It sounds like you have had a pretty tough time with both sons.
My son missed so much schooling too and refused to engage with a tutor.
I haven't heard that there is nothing they can do re the education. IF he has been assesed by CAMHS, what do they say? In fact, your son's school should be providing an education in some form, it is written in the UK education department policy. This is for any student who cannot attend due to physical or mental health. But most schools just put it in the too hard basket.

However, I know what I have learnt on this very rocky road, is that school education is not everything and that after awhile our intense focus on 'you should be at school' erodes our childen of all their self esteem. I suspect your son is feeling much like my son was just 6 months ago.
What has helped with us is that we found a good psychologist (male) who is working on self esteem. Your son is a bit younger than mine, so it might take him another year or two to feel he wants to move forward and get this help. They have to want to do this but we have to get off their backs about school. It really does drain them of all their self confidence and they feel a failure in others and their own eyes.
There is no miracle answer but there are sime things I can suggest from our experience (my son is now a much happier person, despite still not engaging....but I think the engagement will come once he feels he is worthy of that engagement). I can now say my son is in a happier place and I accept that he might not finish school but he can always do further education as a mature age student.

Have you asked the doctor about medication to treat the anxiety/depression. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get one that works.
Take a step back from talking about about school and try and build confidence in small ways by engaging with your son by going for drives, asking him for technology advice, asking him if he'd like to have a go at baking, watch a sport match in TV with him...just hang out...but do not mention school, education or futures. Just live in the moment. It really does help build the self esteem back. Is he interested in playing guitar. keyboard or drums? Not to have lessons necessarily (my son avoided them too) but to teach himself via in line sites? PLaying a musical instrument can help fill the gap of doing very little and can build a sense of worth,
Check this website for on line education options. Also Red Balloon...I think it is called that...see some older posts or the resource section...they might help.
Also Do things just for you. Get help yourself if you can to stay strong.
See if you can talk with your son at some stage about trying to see a psychologist..not about going back to school, but about helping him feel better. If he thinks it is to get him back to school, he most likely won't go.

Encourage any on line connections he has, as long as they are not negative. Playing on line games with others is also ok as it gives them someone outside if family to have a connection with.
This new psychologist we have has stressed that the school refusal, the trying to get him to go over so many years, the lack of support from the schools or support systems has eroded my son's sense of worth. It will take time for your son to also start to feel ok about who he is. Take small steps. Not having friends is not as isolating these days if they have connections on line, but do keep the ineraction with family happening but word up the family not to mention school!
See how you go and come on here any time. Always someone to listen and help when we can.
Take care,

Re: what happens when 'refusers' get older (long and negative post)

Hello Linda,

Thank you for replying so quickly and in such detail. My son is 16 and has left compulsory education, despite still being within the age range for participation. I have met with the Assessment and Reviewing Officer for the LA because my son has an EHCP and my son's social worker, because my son is on a Child in Need Plan (having recently come off a Child Protection Plan due to a complex situation).

It is the Assessment and Reviewing Officer and the social worker who have told me that there is 'nothing the LA can do' if my son will not (cannot) attend college. The college have said that since my son has not engaged when he attended college, then stopped attending during the second week of term and told curriculum staff that he did not like the course and did not wish to continue. there is nothing more they can do. He was asked to leave the course, hand in his badge and we were advised that there was no alternative course available for him.

I have made enquiries at another college (some distance away) and there is a late start course available, but transport will be a problem . I do not drive and my son is not confident to travel on public transport. The LA will provide transport, but I do not think my son would travel alone.

I know the local authority have an obligation to help and support individuals like my son, especially when they have an EHCP which states the need for transition and small groups, but they really do not do it and tend to write the young person off as a medical case. This happened for two years with my eldest.

CAMHS on the other side, say they cannot force treatment on a young person who chooses not to engage.

It is all intensely frustrating and I am tired of complaining.

My son does not play online games. He is obsessed with fitness and works out several times a day in his room. He is obsessed with healthy eating and he goes to the gym every day. The course that I have made enquiries about is based in a gym, but he will need support to get there and support to stay there and he is convinced that colleges now have given up on him.

His brother and his father have ASD and he has a working diagnosis along with a diagnosis of GAD. However, he refuses to go for a formal assessment for ASD.

I really do think that the answer may be to 'forget' formal education for the moment. Yet, perhaps due to my son's perception of his brother's experience, he is very reluctant to engage with mental health services.

I am buying him magazines, about fitness and cars (his other interest) and trying to talk to him about articles. He also goes to car shows with his father. However, these shows occur infrequently and a lot of time is spent in solitary activity in the house.

I apologise for producing another mini-essay

Re: what happens when 'refusers' get older (long and negative post)

Hi again

Don't apologise for long posts....I thought I was the Queen of long posts : )
I can hear your frustration. So much time is spent trying to find the right support and then when you sometimes do - our kids won't engage.
How did your son find the school work - difficult - easy - hard to comprehend? Is there any learning difficulty?
I am just asking because this can lead to a turn off from education even without an ASD diagnosis.
It sounds like forgetting formal education is probably the only way forward at the moment.

The fact that your son is going to the gym is good. At least it is a healthy obsession and he must at least see other people even if he doesn't interact? Getting out of the house is good.

Schools are just not the right place for so many reasons when you suffer from anxiety, ASD, or any other slightly off centre condition. No where else in life are you surrounded by so many peers.
Your son might need time to re-gain his confidence and then slowly make steps out into the world.

My son is now 18 and didn't make the final year - well - like your son - he made two weeks of it...but then said he just couldn't do it any more. His father made things worse by constantly pushing and pushing for him to go back or go to another college or get a job. My son became even more isolated and angry and guilty and not a happy person.
Since my ex has been asked to step back and not mention 'the future' - my son has become a different person.
It took 6 months before my son agreed to see a new psychologist and under the condition that it would not be about 'school'. For the first time of visiting psychologists and psychiatrists, my son does actually go (never on avoidance has become second nature! but at least always there). So although he is not studying or working, he seems to be gaining confidence in himself.

The psychologist also pointed out that because of the anxiety (and your son will be the same) they feel they have little control over what they do and everyone else therefore keeps stepping in and telling them what to do. So they tend to refuse to do anything. Avoidance and not doing anything becomes a life style. The psychologist believes that as the self esteem and feelings of control start to increase, then the motivation to engage outside of the home will increase. He explained that my son felt he was not worthy of friendships because every time he did turn up to school - they had kind of moved on -and he felt left out and with all the guilt about attending - it just snowballed into not feeling good enough. So each situation, disorder or home or school situation feeds into the other but at the base of it - is the self esteem.
So any encouragement you are already giving sounds great and keep on with the praise, the encouragement and making your son feel like he is actually ok...

Go make yourself a cuppa and do something nice for yourself today or tomorrow. You are a good mum and doing the best you can in what sounds like pretty difficult circumstances.
Take care - and don't worry about long posts....

Re: what happens when 'refusers' get older (long and negative post)


Thank you again. I think one of the problems is that for two years both our sons were on Child Protection Plans and perhaps I felt that I had to show how proactive I was as a parent, particularly because actions to further my children's progress were listed on the Child Protection Plans.

Now, however, I am beginning to see that perhaps both boys need time to recover properly and to gain sufficient self esteem before they can access mainstream activities on a regular basis.

My eldest is in a residential setting, so I will support him at a distance and provide him with the emotional support that is not available in an institutional environment. Perhaps, the challenge for me is how I can support my youngest.

He knows an awful lot about fitness and cars, so maybe if he wrote a blog or review, this could be a start...

Anyway, thank you. It has been enormously helpful to hear from someone who has been through this situation.

Re: what happens when 'refusers' get older (long and negative post)

No worries. Come on here any time when you need support.
Whatever has happened in the past - things can move forward and self esteem plays a big role.
A blog sounds good. Whilst technology can have drawbacks sometimes - when kids get isolated, I think it is their window to the world.
Take care and let us know how things go -

Re: what happens when 'refusers' get older (long and negative post)


Our social worker has just been. She told us that the college have said they would be willing for my son to return to the course. However, my son is adamant he will not return. We discussed what he may find acceptable and he has agreed to meet someone from the 'Prevention' team with a view to perhaps thinking about voluntary work or doing something to build up his skills. He is considering doing some voluntary work with animals. I think this would be fantastic. His older brother visits a horse sanctuary once a week and he gets so much out of it.

As we talked, my son seemed a bit more positive and smiled once or twice. He is also reading books on fitness I really think this very gentle, personalised approach is the way forward now.

Re: what happens when 'refusers' get older (long and negative post)

That sounds very positive and a really good idea.
They use horses quite a bit for therapy these days, so I would imagine it is quite helpful for your other son.
Good luck and hope you find something so your son can build skills and self esteem. Slow roads but that's the nature of these things. Lots of people do lots of things outside of a school education. No road has to be a straight one 😊
Take care and all the best,