School Anxiety

For children with SEND, anxiety or sensory overload are common factors affecting behaviour and attendance, which are not always easy to spot. If you think there may be underlying needs, discuss and explore with school how these might be assessed and supported.

It can be useful to think about who you would like to meet with in school. School staff have different roles and you might want to change who you meet with as your child’s needs emerge or change. For example, to start with you may have spoken with their class teacher, or someone in a pastoral role at the school and you may now find you want to talk to the SENCO to discuss next steps with assessing and supporting your child’s needs.

You may find it helpful to look at your school’s ‘SEN Information Report’, which should explain how the school identifies and supports pupils with SEN:

Working with school

Ask your child what they are finding difficult and what they would like to change – this can help identify specific triggers and worries. Your child’s views should always be the starting point of any discussion about support. 

Here are some ideas for support strategies for your child which you could ask about:

  • meet and greet by a trusted member of staff at the start (sometimes during or at the end) of the day
  • school staff regularly checking with them that they are okay
  • visual timetable – clear information about what happens now and next
  • help to understand and manage their feelings and emotions
  • positive praise (for getting through a lesson – replacing sanctions for challenging behaviour)
  • ‘time-out’ card for when feeling overwhelmed in lessons
  • lesson breaks (to allow some calm down time)
  • changes to timetable if particular lessons are a trigger
  • learning away from the classroom, in a dedicated area or room sometimes known as a ‘safe space’
  • lunching away from the dinner hall, ask whether any lunchtime clubs available. (avoiding a crowded dinner hall)
  • 1:1 or small group interventions, support programmes, anxiety or friendship groups
  • permission to leave lessons or school 5 minutes early to avoid crowded corridors

Involving specialist services

You can speak to a school nurse, your child’s GP for advice, recommendations or a possible referral to specialist health services. Share this information with school so they have the full picture, and you can discuss next steps together. 

When you meet with school to discuss your child’s support plan, you can ask about referral options, for example:

counselling (some schools have a regular counsellor available)

Family Partnership Service referral – a way of working with families and assessing needs

Education Welfare Service team

Access to Education team

the Psychology and Therapeutic Service (for an Educational Psychologist)

to a specialist health service, such as CAMHS –

where support options available to school have been exhausted, a request to the local authority to carry out an EHC needs assessment

For the full range of support services available to children and young people with SEND go to: Luton Local Offer

Support and advice for young people:

ChatHealth –  young people 11-19 can text a school nurse on 07507 333356 (for advice on a range of issues including; sexual health, drugs, self-harm, bullying)

4YP – local charity organisation supporting young people 12-25 with social, emotional and physical health and wellbeing in Suffolk (drop-ins and counselling)

Kooth – online counselling and emotional wellbeing support service for young people in Suffolk aged 11 to 18

Moodwise – digital tools and resources to support young people’s emotional wellbeing

Young Minds – young people in crisis can text: YM to 85258


Sometimes anxiety can worsen to the point that a child or young person starts to feel they are unable to go to school. Speak to their school as soon as possible to let them know about the difficulties they are experiencing. You can also talk to their GP.

Reduced timetable

The law says that children of compulsory school age have the right to a full-time education, and reduced timetables are unlawful (unless following medical opinion that this would be in the child’s best interests). However, a reduced timetable can sometimes be an effective temporary measure to support a child who is refusing to go to school. There should be a plan to support a gradual increase to full-time hours, regular reviews and should only happen with parental consent and the involvement of appropriate services.

For further advice and support about the use of part timetable and your rights please see FQA on our website or alternatively you can seek assistance from the Access to Education Team.

Useful links

Young Minds guide to school-refusal

Young Minds guide to Anxiety

Anxiety UK

Five Finger Breathing (a simple guided breathing exercise) – short video from Pooky Knightsmith mental health

Choosing to home-educate (known as Elective Home Education or EHE)

Schools must not seek to persuade parents to educate their child at home by way of avoiding exclusion, or due to poor attendance.

Home educating a child requires a lot of dedication, hard work and patience.  Being both parent and teacher can be very challenging.  For some parents it is a rewarding option which works well for them and their child, but it is a big decision to make.

Parents consider EHE for many reasons, for example if they are being threatened with prosecution for non-attendance.  However, if your child is struggling at school or refusing to go, if they are extremely anxious, have sensory needs which are overwhelming or at risk of exclusion, electing to home educate may not necessarily be the answer in the long term.  There may be support or other options which better meet your child’s needs and family circumstances. 

Take time to explore options and find out as much as you can about home educating so you can make an informed choice. There are many websites offering information and advice, and you may be able to find a local support group with other parents making the same choice. 

Read our information about choosing to home-educate

Contact the local authority EHE team for more information

Where you have an Education, health and care (EHC) plan

If your child is becoming anxious about going to school and they have an Education, Health and Care plan, you could contact the local authority to request an early annual review. 

The review will provide you with the opportunity to let the local authority know about the difficulties and discuss the support in place, and the progress being made towards outcomes. You can also ask for re-assessment if you believe your child’s needs have changed significantly since the plan was first issued, if you think the professional advice needs updating, or the provision is no longer meeting needs.

You will be able to propose any changes you would like to see made to the plan, for example with the support that is provided or with the outcomes.

You will also have an opportunity to request a particular school to be named, should the local authority decide to amend the plan following review. 

Read more about Annual Reviews of an EHC plan

Further information advice and support

When a child has been refusing to attend school and their behaviour and/or anxiety appears to be worsening, it is important to seek help as soon as possible.

Please contact a member of the SENDIAS service if you require additional assistance

Not in Fine in school have produced a detailed report of evidence which provides information on the theory of school refusal and the challenges that young people and families face:  Click here to access the PDF