Emotionally-Based School Avoidance (EBSA)

School and Education - EBSA Support

Contributing Factors

The existing research base on emotionally based school avoidance suggests that there is no clear or identifiable cause of EBSA, but rather a complex interlinking of factors. The majority of those factors can be split into three main categories: school, family and individual factors.

School Factors

  • Bullying / perceived bullying (the most common school factor)
  • Difficulties in specific subject/s
  • Transition to secondary school, key stage, or change of school
  • Structure of school day
  • Academic demands / high levels of pressure and performance-oriented classrooms
  • Transport or journey to school
  • Exams
  • Peer or staff relationship difficulties

Family Factors

  • Separation, divorce, or change in family dynamic
  • Parent physical and mental health problems
  • Being the youngest child in the family
  • Loss and bereavement
  • High levels of family stress
  • Family history of EBSA
  • Young carer

Individual Factors

  • Challenges with self-awareness / identity
  • Temperamental style – reluctance to interact and withdraw from unfamiliar settings, people, or objects
  • Fear of failure and poor self-confidence
  • Physical illness
  • Learning difficulties, developmental problems, or Autism Spectrum Condition (if unidentified or unsupported)
  • Traumatic events

As well as this, they can also be split into ‘push’ and ‘pull factors from the environment, school, or child themselves – see below. Thambirajah et al. (2008) explains that “School refusal occurs when stress exceeds support, when risks are greater than resilience and when ‘pull’ factors that promote school non-attendance, overcome the ‘push’ factors that encourage attendance.”

School Push Factors – towards attending school

  • Academically bright
  • Good social networks
  • Good relationship with teachers / peers

Home Push Factors – towards staying at home

  • Reduces anxieties around attending school
  • Having unmet needs addressed
  • Not having to complete school work
  • Enjoying chosen activities

School Pull Factors – away from school

  • Prolonged period of absence from school
  • Difficult transition to secondary school
  • Academic difficulties
  • Social difficulties

Home Pull Factors – away from school

  • Change in family dynamics
  • Parental illness
  • Liking safety / flexibility of being at home
  • Isolated, not leaving the house

Indicators of EBSA

It is important to be aware of the potential indicators of EBSA, so that children and young people can be supported at the earliest stage possible. The longer the child or young person is out of school because of anxiety, the more difficult it is for them to return to school where the non-attendance pattern of behaviour is maintained. Therefore, it is key for schools to monitor the attendance of their pupils and identify any patterns in non-attendance. Staff members can further their understanding by remaining curious about pupils behaviour in relation to EBSA and sharing information with colleagues.

Please see the list below which highlights some potential indicators of EBSA. This is often seen as a pattern of school-related behaviours across a range of situations which, when combined, can cause significant anxiety:

  • Difficulty attending school with periods of prolonged absence
  • Child reluctant to leave home and stays away from school with the knowledge of the parent/carer
  • For younger children, reluctance to leave parents or get out of the car
  • Regular absence
  • Frequent absences for minor illnesses
  • Patterns in absences, for example, particular days and/or subjects, after weekends and holidays
  • Reluctance to attend school trips
  • The young person expresses a desire to attend classes but is unable to do so
  • Anxiety on separation and dependence on family members e.g. worry expressed about the safety of those at home
  • Evidence of under-achievement in learning
  • Social isolation and avoidance of class mates or peer group
  • Challenging behaviours, particularly in relation to specific situations at school
  • Severe emotional upset with excessive fearfulness, outbursts of temper and complaints of feeling ill on school days
  • Depression, low self-esteem and low confidence
  • Confusion or extreme absent mindedness due to lack of concentration
  • Physical changes i.e. sweating, sickness, aching limbs, headaches, panic attacks, abdominal pain, rapid weight loss or gain

Acknowledgments to Conwy’s local authority and West Sussex EBSA Guide.

ID: 11564, revised 21/06/2024