Emotional Based School Avoidance

What is Emotional Based School Avoidance?

Emotional Based School Avoidance (EBSA) is a broad umbrella term used to describe a group of
children and young people who have severe difficulty in attending school due to emotional factors,
often resulting in prolonged absences from school. It can be referred to as avoidance or non-attendance (EBSNA)

There is clear difference between those that are absent from school because of truancy, and those that are absent from school as a result of the emotional distress they experience regarding attending school.

Although some of the information around school avoidance uses the phrase 'School Refuser', this could
be unhelpful, as the word ‘refuser’ implies that the child or young person has control over their
school non-attendance. This terminology locates the ‘problem’ within the CYP and detracts from environmental factors that could really important in supporting a return to school.

Causes of EBSA/EBSNA

There is no single cause for EBSA and it is most likely to be a result of various factors, including the young person, the family and the school environment 

Risk and Resilence Factors 

There have been factors identified that place children at greater risk of EBSA; however, it is important to also identify and build areas of strength or resilience for the child, family and school. These factors can be separated into risk and resilience. 

Risk Factor examples 

Picture source pg 10

Resilience Factor examples 

  • Feelings of safety, security and a sense of belonging
  • Positive experiences where they can succeed
  • Positive relationships with peers or staff 
  • Feeling listened to and understood
  • Understanding the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviour
  • Willingness to work in partnership between school, family and external professionals

Source pg 11

The contributory factors of ‘risk and resilience’ can also be separated into ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors. EBSA is most likely to occur when the risks overwhelm the resilience, and when the ‘pull’ factors that encourage school avoidance 'take over' the ‘push’ factors that encourage school attendance.

EBSA/EBSNA Research 

Shannon Corcoran and Caroline Bond from the University of Manchester have conducted research into key themes that supported successful return to school. They identified 5 key themes:  

Individualized approach  

The research found that adapting the practice and expectations for each child was important. Sharing the adaptations through ‘pupil passports’ or staff training with colleagues was also an important factor in success.    

Effective home-school communication  

Factors that were found to be useful in this areas were listening to parents, reassuring parents and daily dialogue to assist consistent use of strategies between home and school.

Awareness of triggers

Gaining the parent and child views was a key method to identifying the triggers for the specific individuals. Understanding the triggers aided the identification of helpful strategies and interventions, such as access to safe spaces, learning breaks, social skill interventions 

Engagement with other professionals

Participants in the study found consultation meetings with other professionals as useful for developing a shared understanding of the child’s needs. The input from professionals enabled a consistent approach to be provided, and parents valued practical advice, that went step-by-step. 

Positive relationships with school staff  

Positive relationships with school staff were important in encouraging school attendance, and was found to be most successful as a whole school approach. Staff who had a positive and calm approach to communication with the child were able to support the reframing of challenging situations. 

Additional resources

Manchester City Council have an EBSA Good practice guidance document for schools and support agencies

The West Sussex Educational Psychology Service has produced information booklets for parents, children and young people and one for children and young people with Autism and Social Communication Difficulties 

Organisations who provide information/support for parents/professionals relating to EBSA: