An online school expert says more needs to be done to help school refusers and has shared his advice for parents following new research by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).
The research has found that a fifth of all children have been “missing” from school since the COVID pandemic. There has also been a “dramatic increase” in the number of young people being home educated, with the figure rising 34 per cent since before the pandemic, much of which is being put down to rising numbers of children being diagnosed with mental health issues such as anxiety post-lockdown.
Coupled with the rising numbers of school refusers in the UK comes an increase in the number of parents being faced with a difficult decision – whether to keep their child in mainstream education or seek an alternative. Add to that the darker mornings and darker nights making this coming term one of the more difficult for those already struggling, and it can be a recipe for stress and anxiety for the whole family.
With that in mind, Lawrence Tubb, Headmaster of online independent school Minerva’s Virtual Academy has shared his advice and tips for parents on the best way to support your child if school-related anxiety takes over.
It’s not just adults that be affected by the changing seasons and the half term in the run-up to Christmas is often the toughest for most children, Lawrence explains:
“Dark mornings, dark nights can have a huge effect on children’s mood, much in the same way it does for adults.
“There have been endless studies showing that the changes in seasons affect our learning patterns, and it’s important to realise that every child learns differently – what works for one child may be the completely wrong option for the next.
“At Minerva’s Virtual Academy we remove the anxiety around the physicality of school, allowing children to solely focus on learning. The results are incredible.”There are a few tell-tale signs that could suggest that your child is feeling anxious about school, Lawrence says: “One of the biggest red flags is if your previously enthusiastic child starts to retreat from school life.
“There will always be elements of school that your child isn’t excited about but if they start to dislike subjects that they used to enjoy, that can be a tell-tale sign of anxiety.
“Physically, an increase in physical complaints such as headaches, stomach aches and fatigue can be a sign of stress, and similarly, an increase in absences or attempts to convince you to let them stay home from school is something else to look out for.
“Outside of school, a change in sleeping patterns can be another sign of anxiety as can an unwillingness to socialise either with friends or with family. Essentially, you know your child better than anyone so any significant changes in behaviour should be things to keep an eye on.”
When it comes to tackling some of these issues, it’s all about communication, says Lawrence.
“It seems simple, but talking to your child and allowing them to share some of their concerns is always the first step you should take. Keeping that clear and open dialogue can help them to feel empowered to come to you when they feel a little low.
“Talk through potential coping strategies. Whether that’s implementing a specific wind down routine before bed to help them to sleep better, breathing exercises or some simple meditation techniques, it will help them to understand that there are ways that they can ease their symptoms.
“After you and your family, the people that your children spend the most time with per week are their teachers so the next step is to talk to them. See if there are any ways that you could be helping to alleviate their symptoms both at home or at school, and if there is anything that could be implemented at school to support them through the school day.
“As the old adage goes, a problem shared is a problem halved and a lot of the time, one of the first hurdles is showing your child that they’re not on their own.”
It’s also important to remember that while it may go against everything we’ve been told, mainstream education simply isn’t the right fit for every child, but there are alternatives, says Lawrence.
“There is no one-size-fits all for education and it’s clear that some students work better outside of a traditional classroom environment, especially if they are struggling with anxiety.
“Rather than lose these children from the system completely, online schooling can help them regain the confidence they need to learn effectively.
“Only recently we had a girl who really suffered with anxiety and was refusing to go to school. She joined Minerva to study for her GCSE’s and once she completed these she felt able to return to physical college to finish her studies. It was a huge success all round and goes to show that sometimes, all it takes is a change of environment to help our children to thrive.”
For more tips, advice or to find out more about Minerva’s Virtual Academy, visit www.minervavirtual.com