School Refusal: Strategies and Resources for Schools

February 14, 2023

School refusal is a complex issue that affects a significant number of students and their families. It can be a challenging experience for everyone involved, from students and parents to teachers, principals, and psychologists. Understanding underlying causes of school refusal and various strategies that can be employed to address it are crucial for effectively supporting students.

1. Understand school refusers

School refusal refers to situations where a student refuses to attend school or experiences significant emotional distress when faced with the prospect of going to school. It can stem from a variety of causes, including anxiety, depression, bullying, and complex family or personal issues. The effects of poor school attendance are cumulative and generally impact engagement and lead to a decline in achievement.

2. Identify students at risk

Warning signs of school refusal may appear gradually. Some early warning signs of school refusal include frequent absences, partial absences or lateness, absences on specific days, and a change in the student’s behaviour or mood. Regular attendance monitoring and communication with parents and students can help to identify students who may be at risk for school refusal.

3. Support students

School refusal is most successfully treated if identified and addressed early. Supporting students who are struggling with school refusal involves establishing wellbeing teams and pastoral care processes that may involve the student’s family, teachers, and mental health professionals. Teacher interventions are important and include creating a safe, supportive classroom and school environment. Counselling, and addressing any underlying causes of the school refusal will also assist.

4. Build home school connections

Collaboration between schools and families is crucial in addressing school refusal. Regularly liaising with families about the student’s progress and involving them in the support process can help ensure success. Without effective interventions, school refusal can be distressing and confronting for weary parents and emotionally draining for all concerned.

5. Use intervention resources

Targeted resources can play a critical role in helping students overcome school refusal. The recently updated Psych4Schools ebooklet Working with children who school refuse (revised) provides strategies that teachers and other professionals can use to assist students who are reluctant or resistant school attenders and those who are school refusing. In addition to helping with School Attendance Plans, four appendices accompany this resource:

  • Early intervention strategies for parent/carers of school refusers.
  • Teacher strategies to help chronic school refusers cope with common barriers to returning to school.
  • Script suggestions for speaking with parents of a child who is school refusing.
  • Chronic school refusal – an intervention plan for psychologists.

6. Every school refuser needs an individually tailored program

To access an excerpt of the above ebooklet click here. For other ebooklet excerpts, click here. To buy copies of ebooklets click here.

Since each student’s experience with school refusal is unique, the most effective approaches will vary from case to case. However, school refusers should not be forced back to school. A gradual reintroduction usually works best.

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If you wish to contact us, please email:

Murray Evely

Psych4schools Psychologist/Guidance Officer

The author generated this text in part with GPT-3, OpenAI’s large-scale language-generation model. Upon generating draft language, the author reviewed, edited, and revised the language to their own liking and takes ultimate responsibility for the content of this publication.