Phobias and anxiety mean more pupils can't face classroom

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The Independent Online

Increasing numbers of children are refusing to attend school because they suffer from school phobia, anxiety or depression brought on by bullying or the unruly behaviour of other pupils.

Increasing numbers of children are refusing to attend school because they suffer from school phobia, anxiety or depression brought on by bullying or the unruly behaviour of other pupils.

Pupils told inspectors from Ofsted, the education watchdog, that the frightening behaviour of their classmates had made them too anxious to attend lessons. Others approached in the study of 12 local education authorities described how they felt bullied by other pupils.

Anxiety and phobia was most common among pupils at secondary school. But inspectors concluded that "the incidence of younger pupils suffering from anxiety and phobia is increasing".

Despite the growing problem, schools and local authorities are often failing to provide these vulnerable children with an adequate alternative education, the inspectors found.

The inspectors' analysis discovered pupils who had not attended school for four years.

Inspectors cited the case of a teenage boy who, because of his anxiety, had been unable to attend school or leave his house for nearly three years.

In another case a 15-year-old boy with psychiatric problems had refused to attend school for almost a year and developed a phobia about standing close to other people.

"The symptoms of pupils with anxiety, depression and phobia are sometimes not easily recognised by schools," the report concluded. "As a result these pupils can be away from school for considerable periods before they are referred to the appropriate service."

Inspectors concluded that the problem was growing but said they could not quantify it as local authorities did not keep adequate records of children suffering from anxiety or phobias. Vulnerable pupils with a phobia of school are sent to pupil referral units - often called "sin bins" - where they mix with the violent and disturbed youngsters who made them afraid to attend mainstream lessons in the first place, inspectors noted.

Pupils aged 14 and 15 who suffered from anxiety were particularly difficult to reintegrate in schools, inspectors found. These teenagers often had their GCSE studies seriously disrupted.

A "small but significant" number of secondary-aged pupils were not on the roll of any school. "These are generally pupils with anxiety, depression and phobia who have not been attending their own school for long periods," inspectors said.

The Government has launched a series of initiatives to crack down on bullying. A60-second film to be shown on television and at cinemas about bullying was released last week.

Beverley Young, of Education Otherwise, the support group for parents who choose to educate their children at home, said that even more needed to be done to prevent bullying in schools.

She said: "If a child is too anxious to attend school then there is obviously a problem but too often schools prefer to sweep this under the carpet. Bullying is a tremendous problem which I believe is growing."

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