School attendance barriers: Tanya and Jyoti’s stories

Tuesday 24 October 2023
Teacher and young girl sitting on the ground reading a book together.jpg

Tanya and Jyoti have children who face barriers to attend school and have sought help through Action for Children’s Parent Talk service. This blog shares those stories, how Action for Children can help and what we want to see changed.

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Tanya's story

For the past couple of years, Tanya’s teenage daughter has struggled with anxiety around going to school. Tanya says the situation has placed strain on their relationship and has left her feeling there is a lack of support and options for children like hers.

“Lockdown meant she missed out on the traditional transition to secondary school. She had come from a very small primary school so once lockdown was lifted, she just couldn’t deal with it.

“She began having severe anxiety when faced with going into school. I think it’s due to the amount of people – she really struggles with it. It started quite gradually, with her missing the occasional day of school but has since got to the point where she isn’t attending at all.”

Tanya has tried accessing support for her daughter through her doctors, counselling and part time arrangements with the school.

“Nothing has worked. She just doesn’t have the confidence to face going into school. She wants to learn and has always been the top of her class. The longer this goes on the worse things will be for her.”

“I had a call saying I could be prosecuted if she didn’t attend. I was in tears and had nowhere to turn.”

“I went online and started searching for advice for parents in my situation. That’s when I came across Action for Children’s Parent Talk service. It really helped calm me down and it was reassuring that I was not the only person going through this.”

Tanya is currently looking into options for remote learning or home schooling to help her daughter access education.

Tanya, Kent (please credit Action for Children)

Tanya's daughter has been struggling with anxiety

Jyoti's story

Jyoti lives with her six-year-old daughter, Sydney, who has recently been diagnosed with Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Jyoti also has fibromyalgia and experiences chronic pain. The complexities of Sydney’s condition, as well as her own health issues, has led to Jyoti facing challenges with getting her daughter to attend school.

Sydney’s issues around attending school stared when she began primary school.

“She started having an aversion to getting dressed for school and would react very badly to it. I didn’t know about her sensory issues at the time, but she would struggle to wear certain clothes some days and it could result in a complete meltdown.”

“My own health conditions mean there are days when I’m physically not well enough to take Sydney into school. I found it really frustrating that there was no provision to support Sydney in getting to school. It means when I’m ill, there is no one there to help.”

We went without support for so long. It really felt like Sydney was being excluded based on her disability. It just didn’t feel right to me.


“The school have been very helpful, and they know Sydney very well. We go in late often and the school have adapted to what she needs to get into the classroom. Sydney can sometimes get anxious but we’re able to work through it.”

“We went without support for so long. It really felt like Sydney was being excluded based on her disability. It just didn’t feel right to me. I’ve since joined some groups with other parents with children experiencing school avoidance. There’s really not enough guidance out there for parents like us. I’m just thankful that Parent Talk were able to point me in the right direction as I was close to giving up out of frustration”.

How Action for Children can help with school anixiety

School anxiety is affecting a record number of children. But across our services, we can help.

Parent Talk is a first-of-its-kind free online service that provides accessible and trustworthy advice, support, and reassurance for parents and carers of children aged 0-19, or up to 25 if a child has a special educational need. Parents and carers can access one-to-one support from a parenting coach (who are trained family support workers), as well as guidance articles across a range of common parenting challenges. Last year we supported over 500,000 families across the UK through Parent Talk.

Do you need advice on school attendance?

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What we want to see changed

In our latest policy report, we took a deeper look into what parents and carers are struggling with in relation to school refusal. We analysed anonymised data from one-to-one conversations where parents raised the issue of school refusal with our Parent Talk service.

The three key areas that stood out from this analysis were that parents:

  1. Don’t know where to turn for advice
  2. Struggle to access specialist support for their children
  3. Experience home learning as a help and a hinderance.

Parents and carers need better support to help reduce school absences.

The government has made some progress on developing better support services for parents but could do more.

Here’s what we think the government should do:

  • Ensure there is a plan to roll out the new approach to family help services set out in Stable Homes, Built on Love. That should include incorporating attendance mentors into family help services.
  • Commit to delivering family hubs in every area of the country.
  • Review the provision of information and advice services for parents and carers - through services such as Family Information Services and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Services (SENDIASS) - to ensure the advice on offer is helping them to help children struggling with school refusal get back to school.

We are hopeful that these three changes to the support offered to parents would help reduce school absences – ultimately, so all children have the foundations they need to thrive.

Read the report

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