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My child is refusing to go to school

Our helpline sometimes hears from parents whose children are refusing to go to school. This can be because they are unwell, have anxiety issues, don’t feel supported in school, are struggling to cope with issues at home that make attending school difficult (such as bereavement or caring for a parent) or are being bullied and don’t feel safe in school.  Sometimes the reason why a child doesn’t want to go to school is hard to pin down, and a child or young person is just refusing to go.

Parents usually get in touch with us because they are worried about the impact of a child missing out of their education but also what will happen to them if they don’t manage to make their child attend.

Your child’s right to education

Firstly, all children of school age in Scotland have a legal right to a school education.  While children have the right to education, the law places the duty on parents to provide education for their children, either by sending them to school or by other means, such as home education. If a child is enrolled in a school run by a local authority, it is then the local authority’s responsibility to provide an education and any additional support for learning the child needs.

What can I do to support my child if they are refusing to go to school?

It’s important if your child is refusing to go to school to communicate and work with the school and local authority if possible. You can:

  • Try to find out what your child’s issues are with school.
  • Ask for a meeting with the school. Share what your child has said about why they don’t want to attend.
  • Agree with the school strategies and support that may help your child to attend school.
  • If your child doesn’t have an Individual Educational Programme, ask the school to set one up.
  • If appropriate, discuss whether your child could return on a part-time basis. Agree a timescale for them attending part-time and discuss the support they will need to build back up to attending full-time.
  • Arrange another meeting for a later date to review how things are going.
  • If your child is aged 12 – 15 and has additional support needs they have the right to be involved in decisions about their support. They can get help to share their views with the school from My Rights, My Say.

If your relationship with the school or local authority has broken down, mediation can help to resolve any issues and get conversations back on to a positive track. Find out more in our Mediation factsheet.

The school may involve an Attendance or Welfare Officer. Their role is to work with you, your child, school staff and any other agencies involved to find ways to help your child back to school.

Attendance Orders

In some situations, a local authority may put in place an Attendance Order. This is a legal order placed on a parent telling them they must get their child to attend school.  If an Order is put in place and the child continues not to go to school, the parent would be guilty of an offence and could be prosecuted in the Sheriff court.

If you are working with the school and local authority to get your child to attend school, it is unlikely this option would be taken. What’s important to remember is that the priority for the school and local authority should be to protect and support the wellbeing of your child. This can sometimes get lost when relationships become strained or difficult.

Will my child be taken away and put in care for not attending school?

The short answer is no.  It is unlikely that a child will be removed from their home only because their school attendance isn’t good.  They can be removed if there are wider concerns about their wellbeing and protection.

Depending on the individual situation a Compulsory Supervision Order may be put in place. They make the local authority responsible for the child’s protection and wellbeing on a formal legal basis, and can include measures on where the child is to live as well as regulate their contact with family members and others.

If a child is thought to be at risk of immediate harm, then a Child Protection Order (CPO) can be sought from the Sheriff Court. A CPO allows for the immediate removal of a child from their home to a place of safety. Outside of this situation, no child is removed from their home and put into care without either their parent’s permission or before a proper assessment of the risks and a legal procedure (normally a referral to a children’s hearing) has happened.

What is a Children’s Hearings?

A children’s hearing (or children’s panel as it is sometimes called) is a legal meeting to consider and make decisions about children and young people who may be experiencing problems in their lives. If a child regularly misses school without a reasonable excuse they may be referred to the Children’s Hearing.  A panel of three trained members of the local community will listen to the views of the child, the parents, and any relevant professionals (like social work or school) and make decisions about what they think is best for the child.

These hearings are all about the child, and no order will be made by a panel unless they are satisfied that it is better to make an order, than not to. A referral to the Children’s Hearing can sound frightening for a parent but it can be helpful. It will focus attention on what your child’s needs are and what support they need to help them deal with any issues they are struggling with, including attending school.

If you want advice about school attendance or how to work with your child’s school to get the right support in place for them call our helpline on 0345 123 2303.

Contact the Enquire Helpline on 0345 123 2303

Helpline is closed Saturday/Sunday.

Resources/Advice for Young People/

Reach is our website offering pupils advice and information about getting the right support in school.

Go to the REACH website