Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA)

Many children and young people may at one time or another say they don’t want to go to school for a specific reason, such as falling out with a friend or not completing homework on time.

Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA) is different.

This is specifically when a child or young person experiences extreme difficulty in attending school and results in persistent non-attendance where the reason for absence is complex and not always immediately evident to the family or school.

EBSA is often referred to as ‘school refusal’. This term is not helpful as it suggests the issue is located solely with the child or young person. It fails to describe the links between home, school and the child, all of which can contribute to EBSA behaviours and therefore finding it difficult to attend school.

School refusal occurs when stress exceeds support, when risks are greater than resilience and when ‘pull’ factors that promote school non-attendance overcome the ‘push’ factors that encourage attendance.

Thambirajah et al, 2008: p. 33

Causes of EBSA

There are some key features that may make a child or young person more likely to experience EBSA than others, and these are referred to as ‘risk factors’. These can include:

School -Bullying, transition to secondary school, the structure of the school day, academic pressure, peer and staff relationships.

Child – Temperament, poor self-confidence, physical illness, special educational needs, unidentified or unsupported ASC, traumatic experiences or events.

Family – Separation or divorce, parental physical and or mental health, loss and bereavement, high levels of family stress.

Reasons for Non-Attendance

Reasons for Non-attendance are generally realted to 4 key areas:

  • Avoiding uncomfortable feelings of anxiety experienced when in school.
  • Avoiding stressful situations such as academic demands, social pressures or aspects of the school environment.
  • Needing to reduce separation anxiety from a significant adult.
  • To participate in activities such as shopping, playing on computer games, spending time with a significant person etc.

Reference: Information from www.wellatschool.org

EBSA Specific Support

In some ways, support can be the same for all mental health issues (and we list more support on our Support page). However these have been identified as being of particular benefit for those with EBSA:

  • Early identification of the issues and a quick response to re-engaging with the pupil.
  • Develop a Sunday evening plan with the family and a special Monday morning school plan.
  • Positive relationships with educational staff Positive peer relationships.
  • Develop a signal with the child so they can communicate when they are overwhelmed e.g. show a card or use BSL.
  • Having a designated area in which to retreat if feeling under threat.
  • Having an empathic adult to talk issues through with.
  • Planned transition from primary to secondary school.
  • A trusted adult who can negotiate the timetable and support a more flexible approach.
  • Lack of bullying.
  • Opportunities to engage in extra-curricular activities.
  • A well organised and responsive SEN department.
  • Schools whose staff are ALL aware of the issues and how to deal with them.
  • A welcoming, nurturing context which promotes a sense of belonging.

Dr Tina Rae, Consultant Educational and Child Psychologist

Tools for Schools is a website of resources and information, designed to support the inclusion of all West Sussex children and young people in early years, schools, post 16 and other education settings. Their section on EBSA has guidance and toolkits that may be of particular help in understanding the expectations on schools in West Sussex where EBSA might be suspected.