The issue of school refusal, also referred to as “school can’t”, has been in the media in early 2023:
- The Age published a comprehensive article on 2 February, exploring the prevalence and impacts of the problem.
- Shadow Education Minister Matthew Bach wrote an opinion article in the Age, which drew a backlash from parents in letters to the editor and on ABC Radio.
- Education academics Christine Grové and Alexandra Marinucci also responded to Mr Bach’s comments in an article in The Conversation titled “You can’t fix school refusal with ‘tough love’ but these steps might help”
- The Age followed up with another article on 14 February titled “School can’t, not won’t: How to know if your child has school refusal – and what to do about it“
What is school refusal?
The Raising Children website defines school refusal thus: “School refusal is when children get very upset about going to school, and they won’t or can’t go.” The website has a very useful resources page for parents on recognising and dealing with school refusal. Parents and others may use terms like “school can’t” or “detachment” instead of school refusal.
On the Raising Children web page mentioned above, the first point about taking action is, “The best way to get children back to school is by working as a team with the school.” We agree! Strong collaborative relationships between schools and families are the foundation for effective action on school refusal. Schools and teachers often seek more training and resources in order to support parents and students with this complex challenge. Combining parent and teacher knowledge is essential and can only lead to better outcomes for the student. We’d also like to make the following points:
- Blaming and shaming parents is not the answer.
- We agree with concerns raised in the Age article that school absence reporting systems may not be accurately identifying cases of school refusal. Early signs of school refusal are being missed.
- There are many potential causes of school refusal. Mostly these can be traced to a failure of relationships – between student and school, or perhaps between the student and their peers. Many possibilities may need to be considered. We believe there is a strong link with bullying at school, and we wonder if this link has been fully explored.
- It’s important to remember that students themselves should have agency in any process to address school refusal – we should not see them as passive recipients of ‘treatment’ from adults.
The Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment conducted an inquiry into this issue last year, and took public submissions. You can read the submissions on the Senate website, including the Parents Victoria submission . There are also submissions by the Australian Council of State School Organisations Ltd (ACSSO) , the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations and many other parent and community organisations.
Help for parents
If you have a child who is experiencing this problem, here are a few places you could go for help (Parents Victoria does not endorse these services, these links are for reference only):
- School Phobia /School Refusal Australia – peer support group of parents. Meetings, resources, Facebook group.
- School Refusal Clinic – specialised service for children and young people experiencing this problem.
- The David Scott School – This school, set up by the Brotherhood of St Laurence, delivers the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL), a recognised senior certificate for young people who are disengaged or at risk of disengagement from school.