Parents Launch Crowdfunding Appeal
Two parent-led organisations, Square Peg and Not Fine in School, are set to launch a legal case challenging how current school attendance laws and policies do not meet the needs of vulnerable children who are being penalised because they struggle to attend school.
This group of learners are often referred to as “school refusers”, although their lack of attendance is not through wilful choice. The reasons for their difficulties with school attendance are complex but can be due to undiagnosed special educational needs, mental and physical health problems, trauma or bullying. Often, absences for these reasons whilst waiting for assessment, diagnoses or therapies are recorded as “unauthorised” by schools, leading parents to face criminal prosecutions and fines.
Campaigners are also concerned that whether time out of school is authorised or not, this group of children do not have the same legal rights and access to specialist support and education at home and schools will often refuse to send work home as it’s seen as condoning the absence.
Fran Morgan, the parent of a child who struggled with school attendance and founder of Square Peg, said: “Persistent absence is probably a misleading statistic since it covers such a wide variety of situations, however it’s the only evidence base that covers school refusal, despite this being identified as distinct from truancy by psychiatrists over 80 years ago.
“It’s a complex issue with no easy answers and is now compounded by budget cuts, failings in the SEND system and difficulties accessing support services like CAMHS.
“The inflexibility of the current education system also fails to recognise that one size does not fit all. We have to find better ways to support school refusers and their families without compromising either their well-being or their education and without adding further misery to families already in crisis.”
Funds are being raised to allow lawyers to investigate whether there are grounds to bring a legal challenge against the Secretary of State for Education for his failure to ensure that school attendance laws meet the needs of this vulnerable group of learners.
Expert Opinion“This is an important issue affecting thousands of children and their families across the country.
Government statistics show that over 11% of pupils (nearly 800,000 children) are 'persistent absentees' - 100,000 more than two years ago. Whilst these figures will comprise a broad range of circumstances, including those only just below the 90% attendance threshold for ‘persistent absence’ and those who are not school refusers in the traditional sense, the crisis of funding within our SEND system means that more and more children with disabilities and mental health problems are waiting months, in some cases, years, for a clear diagnosis of their needs. During this time they may face significant difficulties in attending school.
There is a need for a review of DfE attendance policy so that these children and their families can be supported until such time as their education and health needs can be met. Marking them as unauthorised or forcing parents to bring their children into school in distressed states for fear of prosecution cannot be the answer”.
Polly Sweeney - Partner
For more information visit - https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/schoolattendancedifficulties/