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How to support students displaying ABSA

A research project commissioned by Devon County Council and carried out by the Educational Psychology Service has led to the development of a range of resources to support schools in identifying and supporting students displaying anxiety based school avoidance (ABSA).

Adopt a flexible approach to managing anxiety and refusal behaviour

Consideration to be given to the appropriateness of:

  • phased reintegration
  • a temporary flexible timetable – routine is really important so try and ensure (if possible) that the student is in every day
  • time out cards
  • temporary late starts and/or early finishes to avoid periods of high anxiety
  • quiet (anxiety friendly) areas for breaks/lunchtimes

Upon return or reintegration ensure that staff/teachers are aware of the student’s anxiety/reintegration and ensure that no undue fuss is made, but that the student is greeted warmly if possible. It is most likely the student will be anxious about any return to the classroom and will need to feel ‘normal’.
Could a reintegration timetable or support to catch up be offered to allow the student to alleviate possible anxiety or fear of being behind classmates.
Are there any friends who can support the student? (perhaps in walking with them to and from school or supporting in class or at breaks).

If prolonged periods of absence are experienced

Regular communication with parents should be maintained. A member of staff (point of contact) could be arranged to act as a conduit between the school and the home. This is often overlooked and vitally important in ensuring that the student does not feel isolated (another potential reason to avoid school – why bother going when no one there cares?).
Suitable work to be sent home (or are online VLE options available?) with clear and reasonable expectations (Ofsted framework for inspections). This work should be marked and returned.
Not sending work home means the student gets further behind and now has one more reason to be anxious and avoid school.

Possible school triggers

Anxiety can be triggered by a host of potential factors. These might include:

  • changes to class structure, teachers or routine
  • poor class behaviour or poor and inconsistent classroom management
  • fear of getting in trouble – try to sit the anxious student away from disruptive pupils (but be aware that this may draw unwanted attention in their direction)
  • not understanding the work set in class
  • fear of getting the answer wrong, feeling foolish and having the spotlight on them
  • standing and performing in front of the class
  • exams and fears of poor performance
  • breaks/lunchtimes – social anxieties and fears of rejection thrive here
  • assemblies and group activities
  • return to school after an absence – fears of what people will say, missed work and not knowing what is happening
  • homework – fear of getting it wrong