School refusal: Insights from Parent Talk 2022-23

Joe Lane - Head of Policy and Research
Tuesday 24 October 2023
Teacher and young girl sitting on the ground reading a book together.jpg

Our latest report investigates what parents and carers are struggling with in relation to school refusal and anxiety – now the most common issue requested in Parent Talk support

Parent Talk is a first-of-its-kind free online service which 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 or disability. Parents and carers can access one-to-one support from a parenting coach – a trained family support worker – as well as advice and guidance articles across a range of common parenting challenges. Last year the service supported over 500,000 families across the UK.

Between April 2022 and March 2023, our advice article on school refusal was used more than 50,000 times. Using anonymised data from one-to-one conversations where parents raised the issue of school refusal, we took a deeper look into what they are struggling with.

Read the report

Three issues stood out:

1. Parents don't know where to turn

The most common challenge raised by parents whose children are refusing to go to school, or struggling with school anxiety, is that they don’t know where to turn for help. That can be because their child’s school is struggling to offer the support they think their child needs, or because they simply aren’t being offered any support at all.

2. Parents struggle to access specialist support for their children

Where families are struggling with school refusal it is often related to challenges accessing specialist support. That can be mental health services, support for special educational needs, or early help services.

3. Learning from home can help and hinder school attendance

Many parents struggling with school refusal mentioned the impact of home learning during the pandemic. For some parents home learning was a lifeline, enabling their child to stay in touch with their schooling to some degree. For others, the option of learning from home had solidified their child’s reluctance to attend school.


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

The government should:

  • 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. This can be done through services such as Family Information Services and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Services (SENDIASS). This is to ensure the advice on offer is helping parents and carers to help their children struggling with school refusal get back to school.