school refusers

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School Refusal
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New to all this

So pleased to have found this forum. I have a 16 year old transgender son (so born female and identifying now as male for the last one to two years). Primary school was generally OK, though with some periods of being regularly sent home with anxiety induced tummy aches and feeling sick and generally being a bit shy. During this time he also developed a phobia of sickness, which still remains - seeing people be sick, being sick himself, even the mention of the word. Last two years of primary were very positive, good friends, good teacher, good sats results which have resulted in him having high GCSE expectations from secondary school.
Secondary school has been difficult from the start, difficult friendship groups, incidents of bullying, being ostracized and generally being at the bottom of the pecking order because of shyness. The school dealt with everything very well, but the more subtle forms of girly freezing out took longer to address and it all took its toll on my child. He often wanted to skip school and sometimes did but we generally managed to get him to attend pretty consistently and his attendance was only commented on once in yr 9 when it was still over 90%. School arranged counselling which he refused to attend after the first session and they often make him attend mindfulness courses which he hates. Yr 10 was good, with a good friend and no problems really but as we have got closer to the GCSEs, the school have really started to put on the pressure. The kids who aren't meeting their targets are expected to attend intervention lessons pretty much every day after school, before school, on saturdays, in the holidays, in lunch breaks. The pressure is intense and it has got to him and he has stopped attending. Since February he missed a couple of weeks here and there and we managed to get him back in. But then before the holidays he walked out one day instead of going to a mock exam then has absolutely refused to go in again since and has missed his art GCSE exam.
He has pretty much stayed in bed for about 4 weeks and has been very depressed. We have tried everything, incentives, consequences,reasoning but despite wanting to do well in his exams, he is very definite that he can not physically make himself go. His reaction to being told to do something he fears is always total defiance ever since being a child and nothing can ever change his mind. He is also just as terrified of talking to anyone about his anxieties (apart from me). I have made countless doctors appointments to discuss his mental health and his gender issues (he needs a gp referral to the gender clinic) but he always refuses to go in the end. Last week the GP made a home visit because I was so worried about him and he did not come out from under his duvet and felt it a huge betrayal. Now the school have arranged a home visit for next week and I have told him we cannot get out of that, it is out of our hands legally. I thought this might get him into school and I suppose it still might but he is adamant he is unable to go in.
I really can't see that he will take any of his GCSEs and I know I can't force him to. In the last week I have tried to take the pressure off him and told him that while I think he should go to school and take his exams I'm not going to fight him anymore and my focus is his well-being. This has resulted in a lifting of mood. He has great friends outside of school, other LGBT kids and he is quite a free spirit. Without school, he is quite a happy, confident teenager. I'm actually thinking now that keeping him in education would be detrimental to his self-esteem and mental health and it will be better for his long-term future to spend some time finding out what he's into, being creative. I am a self-employed, self-taught graphic artist and I can see him ultimately doing something similar - there are a lot of ways to make a living independently now on the internet. I feel now I have spent the last 13 years trying to get a square peg to fit into a round hole and I should listen to him when he tells me to stop.
If anyone has any advice for me, especially how to deal with the school, the home visit, social services, camhs etc that would be wonderful. The school have been quite good, the year head did mention I could be fined, but I sense they wouldn't go there as long as I cooperate enough. He has a long record of attendance despite anxiety issues and he is a transgender boy in a girls' school, so to fine me they would have to go to court and I think would be unlikely to win, is that right? We also have a younger daughter in the school who is doing well, so I don't think they would take any really aggressive action against us. I'm wondering how involved social services would get considering we are less than two months away from his last legal day at school and what camhs would do when he refuses to cooperate. Would social services be helpful if I need to look into arranging some other kind of academic provision or home study ? He has studied all his GCSEs in full has all the course notes and revision books so he may want to take them next year instead of this year.
Long message I know, but these things are always complex aren't they?! Would love any advice, especially people with older kids and what people have done about GCSEs.

Re: New to all this

Hi Sandy

So glad you found the forum. Sounds like you have had an awful lot to absorb and deal with over the years!
As I read your post I started to get the picture of your son and how it might be for him attending school and when I got to the end and you mentioned he is at a girl's school I guess my feeling was...its just too hard for him to be surrounded with what he was and not what he feels he is. I don't know a lot about transgender, so apologies for just going on my gut feeling here. Yet I can imagine a boys school or co-ed could be even more difficult? What about his LGBT friends...where do they go to school?

Whilst there a obviously many issues that may have led to your son's refusal to attend school and there usually are with all school refusers, their mental health is vital. School is not everything. And it is just not for everyone. Your son has gone through enough in his life so far and has done very well to attend for as well as he has. If you see a happy boy outside of school then that is wonderful and I'd see what he can persue in the creative area as you mention, Also...he might later study as a mature age student. The college my son attended was for those who had left school and wanted to go back or those who didn't fit the 'normal' school system. On the first day he said he sat next to a transgender person who was a few years older than him. At the time I thought that it made perfect sense that a transgender person might have had too much to deal with at school, so dropped out and came back later on.

School refusal students seem to often suffer from low self esteem and the stress of not being able to attend makes it worse. Don't let your son
suffer from the stress of that. Perhaps he just needs to 'live' without constraints and pressures and perhaps even attending the doctor or counselling makes him not feel normal. My son has missed many appointments over the years and just last week refused to see the psychologist, so I went instead! It was very helpful for me. Have you had any counselling yourself?

Sorry I don't have a magical answer. I just know from experience that you can't force someone to school and the sooner you turn things into a positive, the better. As for fines are right, the school probsbly doesn't want to go down that road and with your son's history, then there really is no case.

My son's attempt to try and do his final year hasn't exactly worked. I feel if I had stopped trying to get him to school years ago, he might not have lost so much self esteem which he is still struggling to find. Maybe ask your son what he thinks he can do or would like to and look at if there are any part time jobs or any opportunities to do classes of some kind in design outside of school?

It's a tough one and probably has no one answer. What is your gut feeling?

Re: New to all this

My gut feeling is that he just needs to get out of the school system for now for the sake of his mental health and self esteem and take some time to recoup and find a new path. I do feel quite optimistic that he will be ok in the end. We had an amazing long and calm conversation into the early hours last night and he told me how awful it has been for him when he felt terror about going into school and told me and my response was always 'well you just have to go to school' or I would shout or force him to get dressed or frogmarch him out of the house. And then over the years we got into a cycle of him being scared and defiant about everything and us thinking he was so difficult and all of us pushing against each other, how we just didn't listen to him properly. Well the conversation was a real eye-opener and I can't imagine how it must have been for him these last 5 years. He was incredibly eloquent and mature yesterday and knows himself very well and I am very proud of him and it gives me a lot of hope for his future.
I wonder if you know about our legal rights. He is certain he is not going to go back and he doesn't see the point of taking his GCSEs this year because he has done such little work with all the stress he's been under. So as we are at a fairly early stage in the process, where we are about to have a home visit from the year head and deputy head, am I at this stage able to just deregister him from school and will that stop all the hoops they may try to put us through?
Thanks for your lovely reply Linda. I see you reply to lots of people. Did you set up the website yourself or just very active in it? Just being nosey! Anyway you're great,thanks a lot. It is such a help finding resources like this xxx

Re: New to all this

Hi Sandy

So lovely to hear you were able to sit down and have such a good and open chat. Sounds like your gut feeling is right.
Ask the school whether you are able to deregister at this stage. As long as you have ideas in place, even though work and apprenticeships might be recommended, you should be ok.

I think the defiance in all things was something I also saw in my son and it was that loss of control of something that was on a daily basis and everyone around him seemed hung up on and controlling. It has taken my son a long time to find his own level of control of his life and stop rejecting everything or not believing he is capable. So from my experience I can say....don't keep pushing has so many negative effects. The professionals say they have to go to school but often it is not 'school' that is the issue but the anxiety or fear of something that needs to be dealt with first, otherwise it stays. So although our sons are bright and we feel schooling will see them have a good future....its no use to them if it causes them to break down and become defiant. I am so glad you can see a future outside of schooling as that will help your son move on.

It was Simon who set up this wonderful site and was a saviour for me many years ago. I now oversee the site and Simon checks in as often as he can.
Let us know what the school says re deregistering as it might help others to know whether the government policy and schools are in agreement on this one!
All the best to you and your son as you take steps in a different direction,

Re: New to all this

I see that you and Linda have had a good chat! What a difference it made to me to have people around who actually understood what we were going through.

You also seem to have cleared the air a bit with your son, and I am sure that will help you both.

Picking up on your relationship with the school...

De-registering from the school also cuts you off from the school - and potentially the education system. I would talk to the school first to check what the implications are. You may still want to use the school so your son can take his exams at a later date.

The home visit from the year head and deputy head gives you both the opportunity to ask questions, and not just be talked to. Preparation and planning are the key here. He is your son, and you know your responsibility to ensure he receives an education. But it is the school's job to provide it (with the local education authority). So, you are pleased that they are taking the time to concentrate on your son, and welcome their help. (Take the initiative; be in charge) Make sure you know your facts, and have the relevant correspondence to hand.

I am sure you have made the point that de-registering is not you saying to your child that he can spend the rest of his life in bed! or in the house. But there needs to be some plan in place as to what is going to happen. You made the point that he is eloquent and mature, knowing himself very well, so in that context, I am sure he already knows that must be the case, but it will still be a difficult process for you both.

Yours aye,


Re: New to all this

An update: Two senior teachers, my son's year head and English teacher, came for a home visit yesterday and they were really supportive and kind. My son was in a panic and refused to see them and they respected that and didn't push. They offered that he could take his English Exams at home with an invigilator as he had passed his English Lang mocks just before he stopped going in and they have referred us to social services with our consent to get more support (though he is saying no to this at present). They will not be doing anything punitive as they are happy with everything we are doing and our communication etc. Most of all you could see that they were genuinely sad for my son, with whom they have built up a relationship with over the years. This has floored me, as I had put all my energy into preparing for a fight and now I'm just left with the sadness of it all. The last week has been the proverbial rollercoaster of emotions.
Any advice or experience of planning for the future post 16 would be great. What different options are out there? He thinks he can just take them all again next year but I do worry because he is very good at feeling positive about things in the future and he may panic again. We are all tiptoeing around him at the moment and not causing arguments and babying him, which I think we may have to do for a while till he feels better, but at some point he will have to begin to contribute a bit more to the household, chores etc, work towards his future and gain a little financial independence and I find all that hard to see happening too soon and I really don't want to get into the same old cycle of me pushing and him being defiant. Did you see any change in attitude when the school pressure was off or did a lot of the same issues continue in a different form?

Re: New to all this

Sandy, our experience was one of steps forward and steps back, and not always more forward!

Yes, the pressures are less as you do not have that morning struggle every day (Have you seen my 'Duvet Day' article: ? I am sure others have similar stories to tell.

My daughter took longer to reach the point where she is self-sufficient than her siblings and friends did, but she made the journey. She gained a degree and holds down a job that requires away from home travel.

But is was at many times a hard struggle for us all. My motto is 'Onwards and Upwards'. I commend it.

Re: New to all this

Hi Sandy,

So glad to hear the visit was good and they genuinely cared and wanted to help.

Did the same issues continue? I guess as Simon has indicated in his case, it improved in that you don't have to feel so awful each morning....
but the anxiety issues in our case did remain and when he tried to study again, I think he fell back into the old pattern and he almost expected to fail before he even started! Leaving school behind, however, was a relief in our case as we had struggled to get any real help.
He also became a much happier boy.
Every case is slightly different, so it is hard to tell but there will be relief for you and your son in regard to the expectation from society that when at school your child 'should be attending like all the other kids'.

In our case, trying to keep him in school had some positives such as interacting with others and keeping friends (although they were drifting away due to him being absent so often) and some experiences that were great such as work experience (he attended 9-5 every day for a week),
a project that involved interviewing a voluntary group...he made a lvideo. But on the whole it was a nightmare for me and terribly stressful and counter productive long term for my son. He now seems to associate study with failure as in his school refusal was always seen as a kind of failure by his dad and the schools.

Sorry...rambling on a bit as usual! As I again face the realisation that my son has stopped going to the college to do his final year...there are many unknowns But I went to his psychologist last week as he refused and his psych said I had to get on with my life and now that my son is 18 I have to actually stop parenting, I can be there to help or support but if me trying to get him to do something is not working then he said in many ways he will start to take steps to do something if he sees life back to normal for me and even me having a good time. He thinks maturity will eventually kick in and he will want to make the changes or seek the help that he now refuses. He said that I had done all I can in terms of help and suggestions. He also thought my son was taking me for granted. This was in relation to always being there to pick up the pieces and help him move forward. He said if I keep doing that, he won't feel the need to find his own help.

Your son is not at this stage and with his complex issues, you are in a different situation where your assistance is needed.
If you think your son will find work and it sounds like he is more social than my son, then I think you will find it is a relief for you and your son. And whilst some new anxiety might arise as he is no longer in a small somewhat protected environment as he was at school, these might well be different than the anxiety he faced at school. It is an evolving process and a long term one but like Simon's daughter has shown....there are ways forward and in time they will seek their own help and become stronger individuals. In many ways due to trying to cope already, they have more coping mechanisms than the average teenager, but they often can't see this or don't know how to put them into practise.

I'd love to know what you end up deciding and how it goes for you.
Hear soon...take care,
Linda xx