Support for Schools

Research suggests that students who display ABSA are far more likely to suffer negative consequences in the longer term. This includes restricted opportunities for further education and employment prospects. Negative mental health and social consequences have also been well documented and early support and intervention at school-age is crucial to negate this.

Impact of ABSA on schools

Attendance. Anxiety and refusal if not identified early and adequately managed can lead to significant attendance issue for schools.
Attainment. if they aren’t at school they are not learning. If they are not learning they do not attain to the best of their ability. Their failure to attain is also yours and you are judged on this.
Safeguarding. Is the student anxious or avoiding school as a result of (alleged) poorly managed bullying? If the student is avoiding school, are they safe?

Ofsted will consider all of the above during inspections.

Good Practice Guidance on Supporting Students Displaying ABSA

A recent research project commissioned by Devon County Council and carried out by Babcock LDP Educational Psychology Service has led to the development of a range of resources to support schools in identifying and supporting students displaying anxiety based school avoidance (ABSA). The full document and individual resources are provided at the bottom of the page.

Further Considerations for Schools

Further considerations for schools in supporting ABSA

  • Have clear policies on bullying (and cyberbullying), attendance, discipline and behaviour. These policies are to be implemented consistently so that your students have confidence that they work.
  • To develop an inclusive PSHE curriculum that also promotes the management of emotional wellbeing and resilience.
  • To develop a better understanding of school anxiety and refusal behaviours. To be able to spot and intervene early.
  • To develop effective pastoral support systems. Consider if the student has suitable opportunities (known points of contact) to discuss any issues or concerns that may become a barrier to attending.
  • To foster and support effective school/home links. Do parents and students feel comfortable in approaching the school with their concerns?
  • Early intervention and action is vital. What is initially a small issue can soon spiral and become a long standing problem that can significantly impact the student’s attainment (and the school's attainment figures).
  • Talk to the student and look to establish any possible 'at school' triggers. How can the stress/anxiety of these triggers be minimised?

Adopt a flexible approach to managing anxiety and refusal behaviour.

Consideration to be given to the appropriateness of:

  • Phased reintegration.
  • Whether a temporary flexible timetable is appropriate. Routine is really important - so try and ensure (if possible) that the student is in every day.
  • Time out cards.
  • Temporary late starts and/or early finishes to avoid periods of high anxiety.
  • Quiet (anxiety friendly) areas for breaks/lunchtimes.
  • Upon return or reintegration ensure that staff/teachers are aware of the student's anxiety/reintegration and ensure that no undue fuss is made, but that the student is greeted warmly if possible. Most likely the student will be anxious about any return to the classroom and will need to feel 'normal'.
  • Reintegration timetable or support to catch up to be offered to allow student to alleviate possible anxiety or fear of being behind classmates.
  • Are there any friends who can support the student? (perhaps in walking student to and from school or supporting in class or at breaks?). 

If prolonged periods of absence are experienced:

  • Regular communication with parents should be maintained. A member of staff (point of contact) could be arranged to act as a conduit between the school and the home. This is often overlooked and vitally important in ensuring that the student does not feel isolated (another potential reason to avoid school - why bother going when no one there cares?).
  • Suitable work to be sent home (or are online VLE options available?) with clear and reasonable expectations (Ofsted framework for inspections). This work should be marked and returned. Not sending work home means the student gets further behind and now has one more reason to be anxious and avoid school.

Possible school triggers:

Anxiety can be triggered by a host of potential factors. Consider the following:

  • Changes to class structure, teachers or routine.
  • Poor class behaviour or poor and inconsistent classroom management.
  • Fear of getting in trouble. Try to sit the anxious student away from disruptive pupils - this may draw unwanted attention in their direction).
  • Not understanding the work set in class.
  • Fear of getting the answer wrong, feeling foolish and having the spotlight on them.
  • Standing and performing in front of the class.
  • Exams and fears of poor performance.
  • Breaks/Lunchtimes. Social anxieties and fears of rejection thrive here.
  • Assemblies and group activities.
  • Return to school after an absence. Fears of what people will say, missed work and  not knowing what is happening.
  • Homework, fear of getting it wrong.


Anxiety Based School Avoidance - Good Practice Guide for Schools (full report)

Advice for Classroom Teachers

Developing a Plan for a Student Displaying Anxiety

Identification of Students at Risk of Anxiety (pdf)

Identification of Students at Risk of Anxiety (Word document)

School Avoidance Self Audit Tool (pdf)

School Avoidance Self Audit Tool (Word document)

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