Missing school due to anxiety and other mental health needs
Anxiety and other mental health needs can have a big impact on learning. If your child isn’t able to attend school regularly, it can be a worrying time.
Whether they are off for a short time or for longer period, it’s important to know that your child has the right to an education and to the support they need.
It can be difficult and upsetting for both you and your child if they are struggling with their mental health. It’s important to know that there is support available for you and your family if you need it.
You should speak to your child’s school to let them know that your child is having mental health difficulties. You could ask to speak with the person responsible for additional support for learning. Understanding your child’s mental health difficulties can help their school to put the right support in place.
Your child’s school may refer your child to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). You may also wish to speak to your GP, who can give you more advice about supporting your child. They may also be able to refer you to further mental health services.
These organisations can provide you and your child with further advice and support:
What does the law say?
Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and Scottish law, your child has the right to an education. They continue to have this right even if they cannot go to school. Your local authority has a duty to make sure that your child can continue learning while they are absent. This includes if your child is absent for one long period, or if they often miss school for shorter periods.
Your child is considered to have ‘additional support needs’ if they need extra or different help to other children their age, for any reason. This means that your child can get support with their mental health at school. The law does not say what this support should look like because it should be based on their individual needs. It is also important to know that your child does not need a diagnosis of a particular mental health condition to receive support.
Your child’s mental health needs may also be protected under the Equality Act 2010. This law says that your child should not be put at a disadvantage or discriminated against because of a disability, which can include mental health needs.
Additional support for learning: Key facts
This factsheet explains the key information you need to know about your child’s rights to additional support for learning.
What mental health support can my child get at school?
There are lots of ways that your child could be supported with their mental health needs. Their support should be based on their individual needs and circumstances. Your child’s school should work with you to plan the support that will best suit your child.
Some things to think about when planning your child’s support are:
- Are there particular lessons, times of day, or situations where your child needs support? For example, they might find busy corridors in between lessons difficult to manage.
- What are your child’s strengths and interests, and how could these be supported to encourage their confidence?
- What helps your child when they are experiencing a difficult mental health episode? For example, they might like to go to a quiet spot when feeling overwhelmed.
- What support does your child receive at home or elsewhere that might help them at school, too?
- Who can your child speak to about their mental health at school?
- How can your child’s school keep you informed of how they are doing?
When thinking about your child’s support, it is important to include their views. They may know what is causing their mental health difficulties or have ideas about the kind of support they would like. Listening to their ideas can help to build a support plan that works for them.
My child is anxious or worried about going to school. What can I do?
You should first let your child’s school know that your child is finding it difficult to attend. Your child’s school should work with you and your child to find them the right support. This might include exploring the reasons why your child is struggling to attend and putting support in place to meet those needs.
Ask for a meeting with school to talk things through and explore all options for your child. It might be that the school could make some adjustments that would help your child feel more able to go in. This could be things like later starts or earlier finishes, building up a relationship with a trusted member of staff, or having a safe and quiet space they can go to. The school could also think about ways to make the school day feel more predictable if that would help ease some worries, or how to put the focus on subjects and activities your child most enjoys.
You can also talk to school about whether referring your child for some mental health support, for example from CAMHS, might help.
Talking to your child’s school about anxiety related absence
Eleven handy tips to help parents and carers talk to their child’s school about anxiety related absence,
How can my child access learning while they are not able to attend school?
Your child continues to have the right to an education even if they are not able to attend their school. Your child’s school should support their learning in a way that meets their needs. This might mean sending work home, accessing online learning, or attending learning in a different setting (often called ‘alternative provision’).
Every child’s needs are different, so there are different ways that your child might learn while they are not at school. The education they receive should support a broad, flexible curriculum that builds on their existing learning. It should suit your child’s individual needs, including consideration of their mental health. If it’s not clear how long they will be off, education should start as soon as possible. It should be in place after 15 days off in a row, or after 20 days of frequent absences.
Often, your child’s school will take the lead by sending work home or arranging access to online learning. Your child’s school should also have procedures to record the work that they have missed while off and should communicate the details to those who support your child.
Sometimes, school staff will work with the local authority to arrange out-of-school education. Some local authorities have an outreach or interrupted learners’ team who can support your child while they are not at school.
It is important that your views and your child’s views are taken into account when planning their learning. The school and local authority should keep in touch to find out about your child’s health and progress. They should listen to your views and your child’s views about the support they need:
- while they are out of school
- to be able to return to school
- once they are back in school.
I feel the school are not meeting my child’s mental health needs. What can I do?
You should first contact the school to discuss your concerns. You could ask for a meeting with the person responsible for additional support for learning. At the meeting, you could:
- ask how the school feel they are meeting your child’s needs
- share the reasons why you are concerned about your child’s support
- share your child’s views about their support.
Sometimes, it can be helpful for your child’s support to be formalised into a written plan. Learning support plans can help staff working with your child to understand how they should be supporting them. Our factsheet Planning your child’s support explains more about the types of plans available.
If you are still concerned about your child’s support at school, there are further steps that you can take. These are explained in our factsheet Avoiding and solving problems.
Avoiding and solving problems
This factsheet explains the steps you can take if you are worried or unhappy about your child’s support, and some of the further steps you can take if you are in a disagreement with a local authority.