Monday 29 November 2021

Not Fine In School. Week 8

The phrase 'Not Fine In School' describes the current situation for too many children in this country. Of course it is widely understood that the unimaginable and catastrophic events of the past couple of years have led to an increase in the numbers of children struggling, but I think it's important to recognise and highlight that school attendance issues are not all down to the pandemic.

A black background with a multicoloured heart logo in the middle, with the words not fine in school, experiences of a broken system
There were cracks in the system even before the recent extraordinary circumstances. The result of a one-size-fits-all approach that clearly doesn't suit every child, every individual, or take into account any varying needs. It feels like our school system is becoming more demanding and less flexible as the years go on, and the cracks are turning into chasms.

I've been contacted by, and spoken with, many families who have children for whom school is not a good place. Some children manage to attend but are then exhausted and have meltdowns afterwards as a result of the environment, the social expectations or the workload. Some children struggle to make it out of the door in the first place. Either way, it's clear to see that school is not working for those children and we need those in the system to look at the reasons why and provide alternatives.

This blog series is an attempt to highlight some of the issues when it comes to attending school, and to try to start conversations around what is or isn't being done well. If it's the latter, then solutions need to be worked on, and if the former then sharing good practice is always helpful. This week's story is of a primary aged child but I'm sure similar is happening in secondary provisions too.


At the moment everything feels a bit bleak and hopeless, it feels like we have fallen through the cracks in the education system, which thrives on routine and structure, as our days stretch out endlessly and aimlessly in front of us. As everyone is back in school, after all the disruption of the national lockdowns and life gets back to some sort of normality; we feel forgotten –‘out of sight, out of mind’.

At the time of writing, my daughter (10) has been out of school for over 3 weeks now, and due to her anxiety can no longer attend school or as the professionals like to call it “school refusal” which implies there is a choice and not that the provision in her Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP) or school is unsuitable. My daughter is diagnosed with ASD, ADHD, OCD and Anxiety disorder. She has had an EHCP in place for over a year, but in the Spring I requested a formal re-assessment of her EHC needs, following the onset of OCD, which manifested in compulsions and rituals that took over both our lives.

I had been warning both the school and the local authority since the beginning of the year, about my daughters school anxiety, the sheer amount of effort, it was taking to get her to school was exhausting for both of us; and seeing her freeze at the school gate and beg not to go in was heart-wrenching for me, but I felt blamed by the school as if it was my fault, because she has a typical female presentation of autism, and an all too familiar story, where she masked in school and let it all out at home with Violent and Challenging Behaviour (VCB) in her safe space- the classic Jekyll and Hyde presentation.

When she was first awarded her EHCP a year ago, I wanted a specialist placement for her then, but her mainstream primary was named. I was told then by the Local Authority that she would have to “fail” at mainstream before they would even consider a special school placement for her. This is in total disregard to the SEND code of Practice, which advocates for a child centred approach and early intervention to promote better outcomes for the future. Unfortunately, the local authority only appear to act once they have absolutely “broken” a child, and once that happens it is much harder to recover from.

Just a year on from that decision by the LA; my daughter is now at home- in limbo, because her anxiety is so acute and she is now under the care of the CAMHS psychiatrist and medicated for Anxiety and OCD. Despite lots of evidence from various professionals that my daughter needs a specialist placement, the LA have drafted her new EHCP as a mainstream setting and left out vital educational provision, some of which was from their own commissioned reports, which would have supported specialist, and so like so many other SEND families, it looks likely we will be heading for tribunal to get the educational placement that she both needs and deserves.

By far one of the most stressful things has been the attitude of school; they continually deny or do not believe the things that I tell them were happening at home, even though they were seeing minor rituals and other behaviour at school, failed to implement her EHCP provision and when challenged gas-lighted me and my daughter “who would of course not have been told off for not paying attention”.

As her school anxiety increased, and after a particularly bad episode of her shouting and screaming and refusing to move from sitting on the stairs, towards the end of the last half term, I approached her new class teacher who had been refusing to meet with me to discuss the problems my daughter was facing, citing Covid as an excuse, when there were no longer any national restrictions in place. In the end out of desperation I caught her in the playground and said I was extremely worried about my daughter’s anxiety over school and her teacher stood there and told me “She’s fine”. 

I calmly explained that she is in actual fact not “fine” because she is under the care of a psychiatrist for an Anxiety Disorder. She then said “well she’s fine in school”. I just felt so frustrated at the lack of understanding and denial, and that they wouldn’t want to help my daughter feel more comfortable in going to school. I was so angry at the sheer audacity to tell me that she’s fine, when she has severe mental health issues. 

I have sometimes wished that my daughter would exhibit VCB in school, then people might believe me and I feel she would have got more help, as it would have been more of a “problem” for the school. I know if the roles were reversed and they were having issues with VCB in school and I said “oh well she’s fine at home” that would not have been an acceptable response and I would have been expected to work with the school to improve her behaviour.

My daughter is now in limbo as CAMHS are wavering and taking their time to make the decision to sign her off as unfit for school with Anxiety, but without that I cannot request alternative provision for her, while I fight for a specialist school place that can meet her needs. 

I constantly worry about the future for my daughter who appears conveniently forgotten, because as a square peg she can no longer suffer the pressure of being forced into a round hole; that of mainstream school. The longer the inaction of the local authority; the harder it will be to get her to re-engage with education and indeed the structure and function of society. Amongst the stark sea of statistics for autistic adults, including the fact that only 22% are in some form of paid employment, you wonder why more is not done to improve outcomes for autistic people, when they often have so much to offer society. As for my daughter I will not take this general acceptance of this situation and will continue to fight for her education and place in society. I will make sure she is not forgotten…starting with this blog.


Thank you for reading. There are many more examples of families being failed by the system. Not all exactly the same as this but all sharing the common theme of school not working. Most of those families caught up in the system currently will not have the time or energy to be able to write about their experiences, so these experiences I'm sharing here will be only a very small representation of what is happening across the country.

If you feel able to share your 'not fine in school' experiences please email me at I understand it can be difficult for families to talk openly about this topic - for some there will be a need to stay anonymous. This issue of the outdated, failing system is huge and should not be ignored any longer. 

For any parents and carers needing help right now, I highly recommend the incredibly helpful Not Fine In School website ( There are many supporters behind the scenes and in the linked Facebook group who have been, or are going, through difficult times during the school years. Plenty of knowledge is being shared which could make a real difference to other families. If the system is not fit for purpose we need to shout that out loud. Please help, by sharing your story or sharing this post to get the message out there.

Square Peg is an organisation making great strides in terms of raising awareness across different media formats, and also looking into legal challenges around attendance policies.

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