What should the school be doing when my child cannot attend school due to their anxiety?

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What should the school be doing when my child cannot attend school due to their anxiety?

Parent Asks:

My daughter is 15  and is in Year 11. She was diagnosed as autistic in April 2022, and after very low school attendance since June 2022, she cannot attend school and is not accessing the curriculum. Her anxiety and years of school-based trauma have left her demotivated and chronically disengaged. The school has tried to support her by reducing the number of GCSEs and her timetable and providing a calm space. None of this has worked.

We are currently in the 1st stage of the EHC Plan request for assessment - I applied myself in December 2022 as the school (at that time) did not believe we would succeed. My daughter cannot return to school, and even if the EHC Plan is approved, it will be too late for GCSEs this year. I believe my daughter could benefit from specialist home tuition, but the school say it is not in their policy to provide this. I understand other schools have provided this for specific pupils, so where do we legally stand? Should I write to the school governors, and if so, is there a code/policy to refer to?

IPSEA Answers:

When a child of compulsory school age is unable to access suitable education (including not being able to attend school) for a period of time for any reason, then the LA has duties to ensure that a suitable, full-time education is provided. Section 19(1) of the Education Act 1996 states:

“Each local authority in England shall make arrangements for the provision of suitable, full-time education at school or otherwise than at school for those children of compulsory school age who, by reason of illness, exclusion from school or otherwise, may not for any period receive suitable education unless such arrangements are made for them.”

As your daughter is in year 11, this will only apply until the last Friday in June of this year, at which point she will be over compulsory school age. After this point, the LA would have the discretion to make education, but not a legal duty. Hopefully, by this time, an EHC plan will have been issued, and the LA will have duties to provide the special educational provision within it.

As a first step to getting temporary education in place, you should inform the LA of the current situation and their duties under s19 Education Act, as well as the statutory guidance ‘Ensuring a good education for children who cannot attend school because of health needs’. “Health needs” can include anxiety and other mental health needs, including school anxiety and school-based trauma. The guidance states that you will need medical evidence but, as a starting point, this can be from a GP if your daughter is yet to see any other professionals, such as CAMHS or a paediatrician.

Paragraphs 14-15 of the guidance state that LAs should provide such education as soon as it is clear that the child will be away from school for 15 days or more, whether consecutive or cumulative and should do so at the latest by the sixth day of the absence. The LA should liaise with appropriate medical professionals to ensure minimal delay in arranging appropriate provision for the child. The guidance is also clear that the provision should be full-time unless this would not be in the child’s best interests, although ‘full-time’ is not specified in terms of the number of hours. Guidance suggests that it should be equivalent to what would be provided for a child of the same age in school, but this is not quantified.

Although the duty is on the LA to provide the education, it is important to continue to communicate with the school who can help to provide supporting evidence to the LA of your daughter’s needs.

You can find more information about how to get temporary education put in place here: https://www.ipsea.org.uk/getting-temporary-education-put-in-place