This section outlines school avoidance, its causes and the steps which can be taken to remedy it, which may include the use of reduced timetables. However, reduced timetables may not always be an appropriate response to the challenges your child is facing. It’s important to be educated on where and when this is necessary.
What is school refusal?
School refusal is a term used to describe the process by which a child might refuse to attend school. Children of all ages might refuse to go to school across primary and secondary school levels. School refusal is a child-motivated refusal. The child knows what it is they need and in the moment of refusal they know they need not to be in school. The child while refusing is attempting to control their own environment.
There are a number of factors that might increase a child’s anxiety surrounding their school environment from the sensory environment, to social and peer difficulties to exam and workload related stress. However, the refusal to attend classes can then cause additional anxiety surrounding the amount of work that has been missed. School refusal can cause a cycle of anxiety which creates and exaggerates the problem which is causing the refusal and becomes even more difficult to get out of it.
It is important to try and identify what factors are causing the refusal and discuss these issues with the school to see if you can come up with a solution to make the school experience easier for your child. There is no simple solution to a complicated problem. Unfortunately, if a child is really struggling in their school environment, sometimes removing them from that environment can be the only option.
What are reduced timetables?
A reduced timetable is a method whereby the school will limit the amount of time a child is spending in school for a set period.
Perhaps the child might only go into school in the mornings or in the afternoons or maybe the child might only attend school a few days a week. A reduced timetable is often a way to reintroduce a child back to school after school refusal.
School can cause a great amount of anxiety for some students. Students might need to come into school in the morning and sit for half an hour or an hour before they begin their day and attend classes. Students might come into school and need their breakfast before they begin, or perhaps students might need to sleep for a while before they feel regulated and are ready for the day.
A reduced timetable is useful for managing an individual’s anxiety surrounding school and for gradually reintroducing them to the classroom.
When is a Reduced Timetable Appropriate?
It is important to note that reduced timetables are to be used in exceptional circumstances As the latest guidelines state:
“It is acknowledged that reduced school days may be helpful in exceptional circumstances as part of a transition or reintegration intervention, based on the needs of individual students…Where a reduced school day is used, it should be applied proportionately, and should last only as long as is necessary to facilitate a return to school on a full-time basis”
These exceptional circumstances are usually time-bound, such as returning from school after a long absence, to accommodate a medical condition. The approach should be based on the support needs of individual student. A reduced timetable should be short term and transitionary; designed to assist the student to eventually attend for the full school day along with their peers.
Can my child be put on a reduced timetable for misbehaving?
Reduced timetables are not a punishment and should never be used as such. It is the school’s responsibility to report all cases of reduced timetables to Tusla – the Child and Family Agency. As stated by Tusla:
“Informal or Exclusion of a student for part of the school day, as a sanction, unacknowledged or asking parents to keep a child from school, as a sanction, is a suspension. Any exclusion imposed by the school is a suspension, and should follow the Guidelines relating to suspension.” (pg.74)
In April 2019, AsIAm carried out a study into exclusion and withdrawal amongst autistic school-children and their families. Out of the survey’s 500+ respondents, as many as 17% had been placed on a reduced timetable illegally (meaning that the school had not informed Tusla).
What should I do if a reduced timetable is suggested for my child?
Parents and guardians are advised to critically engage with their children’s teachers and school if a reduced timetable is suggested. It is important to bear in mind that if your child does go on to a reduced timetable, that it is genuinely in their best interests, and that they receive appropriate support from their schools throughout the process. It is good practice to consider some of the following as well:
- ensure that you have a reasonable and realistic end goal in mind;
- that this goal and withdrawal from regular schooling are regularly reviewed;
- actively involve your child through the process as closely as possible;
- inform your local SENO of the decision
- Make sure you receive a signed copy of the intervention plan
- Remember that a reduced school day period should not exceed six school weeks
- Remember there MUST be a review if the student is still on a reduced school day timetable at the end of the agreed period
- that your child’s teachers and principal are prepared to better engage and meet their needs upon their return to school.
- You must be informed of your right to withdraw consent at any time and the Tusla welfare officer to offer assistance if required