What to Do if Your Child is Refusing to Go to School


  1. Is your child refusing to go to school? 
  2. Why do children refuse to go to school?
  3. What do you do when your child refuses to go to school?
  4. Is school refusal a disorder? What happens if you refuse to go to school UK?
  5. Can I call the police if my child refuses to go to school UK?


Very few things can be as upsetting as watching a child suffer. As a result of coronavirus, lockdown and our newfound dependence on technology for work, anxiety-related school avoidance has rocketed. With so much change going on, it’s important that you do everything you can to support your children’s education. 

Read our helpful hints and tips for overcoming your child’s phobia of school.


Is your child refusing to go to school?


We want our kids to go to school. For most children, firmly telling them that staying at home is not an option is good enough to get them dressed and out the door. 

We appreciate that almost every child has days when they want to stay at home ­– after all, we adults often feel the same way too. Sometimes we are tired, sometimes we would rather stay in bed and watch Netflix and sometimes we are just a little bit worried about facing the real world. The problem is when that worry grows into anxiety which then becomes a barrier to learning.

A child not wanting to go to school is pretty normal and not much of a cause for concern. If your child is refusing to go to school, then that is another matter.  According to the Child Mind Institute, school refusal is determined by:

  • How long a child has been avoiding school
  • How much distress they associate with attending school
  • How strongly they react
  • How much their resistance is interfering with their and their parent’s life

If you need to have the ‘you need to go to school’ conversation regularly it might be a sign that your child is a school refuser. Many children are late on a regular basis because they have trouble leaving the house in the morning. This lateness in the mornings can build up to quite a lot of missed school time which can result in a lot of missed learning and potentially a bad reputation with the school.

A more severe and worrying form of school refusal is when a child has missed an extended period of school lasting days, weeks, or even months.  

In this instance, it might be a good idea to take your child to see their doctor – if your child won’t go to the doctor with you, you can go without them to ask for advice.


Why do children refuse to go to school? 


👉 They are worried about bullying

Many children refuse to go into school because they are worried about being bullied. School can be a rough place and children can sometimes be incredibly unkind. If your child is refusing to go to school but won’t tell you the reason, it’s possible that they are being bullied. Bullying often causes children to feel shame which they then try to hide from their families – particularly social media bullying

If you suspect that your child is being bullied, it is a good idea to contact your child’s school and they can have the conversation with a member of staff. If you know that your child is being bullied, then you should definitely contact the school. Remember, emotional or psychological bullying can be just as scary as someone being physically violent.

👉 They are worried that they are not smart enough

If your child is struggling with their academic learning, they might feel like they do not want to go to school. It can be embarrassing when you get low scores on a test and all of your friends do better than you. Many children are more likely to avoid going to school when they know they have a test because they are afraid of failing. If this is the case, you might want to consider getting some 1:1 tuition from an experienced GoStudent tutor to give your child a confidence boost. 💪

👉 They have a special educational need

If your child is classified as SEND (has a special educational need or a disability) then they are more likely to struggle to engage with their academic work or be able to socialise with their peers. A lot of special educational needs and disabilities are hidden, and people often don’t know that they have them. If you suspect that your child might have a learning difficulty (for example, dyslexia or ADD), you can read information online or contact their school to ask for help, support and guidance.

👉 They have school fear

School is a scary and intimidating place, especially for younger children. They might be scared about getting lost, upsetting a teacher, or bumping into the school bully in the bathroom. If your child has school fear, it might explain why it is difficult for them to go to school in the mornings.

👉 Behaviour

Many children don’t go to school because they have behaviour problems. Perhaps they don’t like the authority within the school, perhaps they are worried they will lash out and get angry or perhaps they simply would rather go and do something else. Behaviour is a significant contributor to school refusal.

👉 Anxiety

All of the above reasons for kids not going to school can result in – or be a result of – anxiety. Anxiety is the most common emotional problem in children. If your child has anxiety, then there are lots of things which you can do to support them.


What do you do when your child refuses to go to school?  


If you’re finding yourself asking: ‘my child refuses to go to school, what can I do?’ you are not alone – one of the more common school avoidance searches on the internet is ‘child doesn't want to go to school anxiety’.

The recent coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns have contributed to an increase in anxiety in children and young people. Read on for our tips on what to do to help your child overcome their fear of school and how to help a child with anxiety.

👉 Ask your child what is bothering them

The best way to help a child is to listen to them – try to focus on listening to what they have to say. It is important to validate their experiences rather than dismissing them.

The charity YoungMinds have a series of suggestions about how to start a productive conversation with your child which might help you get some answers.

👉 Talk with school

Many parents don’t realise just how supportive schools can be. If you are worried that your child is suffering from anxiety and that it might be preventing them from engaging with their school, we would strongly encourage you to talk with their form tutor or head of year. Schools usually have provisions for supporting students with anxiety so that they don’t miss out on their learning.

👉 Arrange private tuition 🧑‍🏫

Quite a lot of anxiety around school comes from a fear of failure. Giving your child an extra academic boost can really help improve their confidence and allow them to engage with their lessons and thrive.

👉 Create a morning routine with time for breakfast

Routines make us feel more comfortable and help us overcome so many problems. Having a clear morning routine can help a child overcome anxiety by giving them structure and confidence. Waking up on time is key to having a clear morning routine. In the mornings we need to get dressed, eat breakfast, and leave the house on time. Research shows that children who eat breakfast have higher test scores and are therefore more likely to be happy at school.

👉 Talk with your GP 👩‍⚕️

If you think that the problem is too great and your child’s phobia of school is too great, we advise that you book an appointment with your doctor and seek professional medical advice. Your doctor can prescribe therapy which could help your child cope with the difficulties of school. 

kid teen therapy session phycologist

Is school refusal a disorder? What happens if you refuse to go to school UK?


As a parent, you have a legal obligation to educate your child ­– this either means that you send them to school or educate them at home. Technically, a child can only miss school if they are ill. If your child has anxiety and you do not communicate this with the school you might find yourself facing a fine from your local council of up to £120.

If you communicate with your child’s school and cooperate with their advice (they will probably advise you to speak with your GP), then you are not breaking the law and will not get fined.

The school is not obligated to teach your child from home if they are unable to go to school because of anxiety – most schools will not offer this service.

Laws aside, the worst thing that happens to your child when they miss out on school is that they don’t receive their education and, as such, won’t have the same opportunities to succeed as their peers. School is incredibly important for a child’s academic and social development and every lesson is part of a planned structure to aid that development.


Can I call the police if my child refuses to go to school UK? 


Many parents panic when their child is refusing to go to school and think that contacting the police is the right solution. The police cannot force your child to go to school and will not get involved if you report school avoidance to them. The police department will likely advise you to speak with the child’s school or GP.

We appreciate that a child refusing to go to school can cause families a lot of anxiety – it is not an easy position to be in and it can raise a lot of problems. Whatever those problems are, try to be patient, tolerant and supportive always. Think carefully before acting and always think about what is best for your child in the long term.