Working with others (this includes child, parent carers and school staff)

Working with the child

Any child currently avoiding school will become anxious when asked to discuss returning. They currently manage feelings of anxiety by employing the avoidant behaviour of not going to school, so any talk about going back to school is going to raise their anxiety as you are proposing to take away their way of coping with their fears. A good place to start any assessment with a young person is to acknowledge it may be difficult but you would like to know what they think and feel. It is important that the adult does not dismiss anxieties or worries the child has, empathise with the young person but do not collude or promote the EBSA.

The approaches taken will depend on the child’s age, level of understanding and language. Even if they are able, often children find it difficult to verbalise what they are thinking and feeling and they may prefer to draw what they are feeling or have visual prompts.

Some example activities or questions could include:

Think about your thoughts and feelings about school and what these would look like if they could be drawn?

It also helps to externalise the anxiety:

  • What name would you give the feeling that you experience when you think about going to school?

  • If it was a thing, what would it look like? What would it say?

  • How does the ...... get in the way of you attending school? When is ........... in charge and when are you in charge?

    Ask them to draw how their body feels when they are worried.

    Use an anxiety thermometer or a scale to ask the child what aspects of school they find difficult some areas to consider include:

  • The physical environment e.g. toilets, corridors, assembly hall.

  • Times of the day or social interactions e.g. arriving at school, play and breaktimes, lining up to go into school or classroom, lunchtimes, going home, changing for PE

  • Particular lessons or activities within lessons e.g. writing, working as part of a group, reading aloud, verbally answering a question

    A life graph or path can help them tell you their ‘story so far’ and what they would want in the future.


    We have also produced Information booklets for parents/carers, children and young people which can support conversations.

    The Educational Psychology Service has developed a range of tools to help schools and professionals access pupil’s views regarding school. These can be accessed via training.

    EBSA Risk and Resilience cards ~ West Sussex Educational Psychology Service im These cards can be used to flexibly explore the young person’s perception of themselves in relation to school and to identify potentially helpful environmental factors which informs a support plan for the young person.
    Landscape of Fear ~Kate Ripley im Mapping the Landscape of Fear is a useful tool that can be used by school staff and others to explore sources of anxiety around school attendance. It examines young person’s beliefs about the physical environment, the social environment and the learning environment in school. West Sussex Educational Psychology Service has developed a visual version of this assessment.
    Ideal Classroom ~Williams and Hanke & Lego classroom ~ Faye Morgan Rose im This tool uses Personal Construct Psychology. Using either Lego or drawing it elicits the child’s views about school
    Attendance Risk Monitoring (ARM) Schedule Pupil Interview For more verbal young people this questionnaire helps identify possible underlying functions of the non-attendance.
    Person Centered Planning im This range of approaches and tools based upon a shared set of values that can be used to plan with a person– not for them. These tools can be used to help the person or organization think about what is important in their lives and also think about what would make a good future.

    Working with parents

    As mentioned previously parents may find it difficult to talk about the concerns they have and the difficulties they experience in trying to get their child into school. It is important that school take time to build a collaborative partnership working together in the best interest of the child. Sometimes parents may have had similar experiences to their child and may experience their own anxiety making it especially difficult for them.

    During the initial meeting it is important to gather background information, establish the current situation and the parent’s views. Questions should be sensitive and the person asking should employ active listening skills, examples of questions can be found on page 16. It is advised that regular contact is made with parents; school staff should identify who will be the key person to communicate with parents and agree how they will do this.

    Working with parents is essential to successful outcomes. While the focus is on the child it is also important to remember that parents may need their own support and consideration should be made to referrals to services such as Integrated Prevention and Earliest Help Service or Special Educational Needs Information, Advice and Support Service, details can be found in the Further local support & resources section.

    Areas to cover Example questions
    Developmental and educational history What was s/he like as a young child? Can you tell me about their early experiences at school? The primary school, at the start of secondary school?
    Strengths, interests and aspirations What is s/he good at? What do they like doing? Do they have any hopes for the future? Do they know what they want their life to be like when they are an adult?
    Any potential changes or losses within the family or child’s life Can you tell me about your family? Who is in it, who is like whom. Who is s/he closest to? Have there been any changes within the family recently? (You could ask them to draw a family tree/ genogram).
    Relationships Does s/he talk about any other children? What does s/he say? Does s/he talk about any adults within school? What does s/he say? Who does s/he get on with...who doesn’t s/he get on with?
    Academic progress School should be aware if the young person has identified SEN needs and should ask about these needs and the support in place. If there is no identified SEN school should ask if they have any concerns, or if the child has spoken about difficulties.
    The child’s view what are their specific fears/worries Has s/he spoken to you about what s/he finds difficult about school? What do they say?
    The child’s views, what is going well in school Has s/he mentioned anything that is going well in school? (e.g. teachers, lessons, friends)
    Behaviour and symptoms of anxiety When s/he is worried what does it look like? What do they say they are feeling?
    Typical day – when they go to school and when they don’t go to school Please describe a typical day when s/he goes to school from the moment s/he...gets up until s/he goes to bed....... and when s/he doesn’t go to school? What does s/he do when they do not go to school? What do other family members do?
    Impact on various members of the family How does their non-attendance impact on you? And on other family members? Who is better at dealing with the situation? Why?
    Parental views on the reasons for the EBSA Why do you think s/he has difficulty attending school? (ask each parent separately) If (other parent/ sibling/Grandparent) were here what would they say? Are there any differences of views about the reasons and what should be done within the family?
    Exceptions to the problem Have there been times when s/he managed to get into school? What was different about those times?
    Previous attempts to address the problem What has been the most helpful thing that someone else has done in dealing with the problem so far? What has helped in the past when things have been difficult? What strategies have been most helpful so far in managing their anxiety?

    Working with school staff

    It is essential that representatives from schools seek information from members of staff who work most closely with the child or young person. We all respond differently according to the environment, situations or task and with different people. Each member of staff may have valuable information to help identify triggers for anxiety and strategies the young person responds positively to. In particular it is important to seek out the views of any members of staff the young person speaks positively about and any member of staff where relationships may be more difficult.

    Key information to gather includes:

  • The young person’s strengths?
  • What is going well
  • Any difficulties they have noticed
  • Peer relationships
  • Relationships with adults
  • Response to academic tasks
  • If they have witnessed emotional distress what did thus look like and what caused it.
  • What support or differentiation is put in place and how the young person responds to this
  • Any ideas for further support.

    An example of a ‘round robin’ form can be found in Appendix 2 Information gathering from school.

    It is also essential to consider whether the child has unidentified special educational needs, medical needs or a disability. If they are not already involved school staff should consult with the school’s special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO).

    Download a PDF version of the Emotionally Based School Avoidance Guidance and other leaflets here.