Children not in school

Why might children not be in school?

  • Emotionally-based school avoidance where children struggle to attend school due to emotional or mental health issues 
  • Elective Home Education (EHE) - where you choose to take on full responsibility for your child’s education. You may teach your child at home, or they could learn online or in other settings which you pay for. 
  • Education Otherwise Than At School (EOTAS) - when a child is getting their education somewhere other than in a school setting, but the local authority is still responsible for this, for example when a child is too sick to go to school for an extended period and gets one to one tuition at home. 
  • Flexi-schooling – where you home educate but your child also spends a bit of time at a school or college. Schools and colleges are not legally obliged to provide this. 
  • Home tuition - is not a legal term, and can be used in different ways. For example, it might refer to private tuition that you pay for as part of EHE, or to one-to-one tuition at home provided as part of EOTAS. 
  • Suspensions and exclusions – where a school excludes your child from school, either temporarily or permanently for not behaving according to their policies. See our page on Suspensions and exclusions. 

Emotionally-based school avoidance (EBSA)

Most children and young people will feel anxious about going to school or college at certain points during their education. This may be because of exam stress, issues with friends or teachers or because of difficulties at home or outside of school. 

When stress or anxiety persists and becomes so severe that children or young people struggle to attend school, this is called emotionally-based school avoidance or EBSA. EBSA doesn’t just cover children who are missing school entirely; it also includes children who are in the building but not in class and those not staying in school for the whole day. 

Some children and young people will struggle to attend school because of their special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). This may be because their additional needs have not yet been recognised or the school is not offering them the right support. They may have mental health issues that prevent them being able to learn or feel safe in school. Sometimes bullying or a traumatic incident is a tipping point. For others, their anxiety about attending school was triggered or exacerbated by the extended school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Download our fact sheet on Emotional Based School Avoidance (pdf 700kb)  for tips about coping with school avoidance. 

Or read Young Mind’s information for parent carers on school avoidance and mental health 

Education East Sussex also produce this useful EBSA guidance for parent carers and young people.

The law around emotionally-based school avoidance (EBSA)

Parents are legally responsible for making sure your child receives a suitable education either by attending school or via elective home education (EHE). You can be fined or prosecuted if you don’t do this, but this should not be used to punish your family because you child is unable to go to school because of SEND or health conditions.  

Schools may suggest part-time timetables as a useful tool to help your child through a tricky period or return to school after a gap. These should be time-limited, with a process to review and build up towards getting a full-time education. If your child with SEND is on a part-time timetable longer than a period of weeks, careful thought should be given to whether they need different provision. It may be time to look at requesting assessment for an EHC Plan. If they already have an EHC plan, perhaps they need a new placement or a review of the SEN provision they are getting.  

See our Amaze SENDIASS video about informal school exclusions and part-time timetables or visit our page about suspensions and exclusions.

Some parents may feel pressured to off roll (AKA de-register) their school-avoiding child from school and switch to elective home education (EHE). Though home education can be a great option for families that choose this for themselves, it is not something you should do because of pressure or the threat of fines for non-attendance. If you do de-register your child, be aware that you become solely responsible for meeting their special educational needs instead of the local authority. 

Schools have a duty to monitor attendance, work on barriers to attendance affecting your child and offer support. They should only take steps to enforce attendance if they have offered informal and formal support and you haven’t engaged with this. Local authorities are expected to offer help to schools, support for families and use legal remedies for non-attendance as a last resort.  

Local authorities must provide alternative education, or ‘education other than at school’ (EOTAS) to children who are not currently receiving an education by reason of illness, exclusion or otherwise. So, if you and the school have tried all the right things to help your child attend and they really can’t go to school, the LA should provide them with an alternative such as home tuition or off-site alternatives to school. This is pretty clear cut when it is a physical health problem but can be trickier to negotiate when it is a mental health issue or unmet SEND. You will likely need evidence from a health specialist, but it can legally be from your GP in some circumstances, for example if you are on the waiting list for CAMHS. See our sections on EOTAS and EHE or get additional information about the legal position from national advice charity IPSEA. 

Tips for coping with school avoidance

School avoidance can be a tricky issue to navigate for all parents but there are things that you can do to help. Our SENDIASS team, many of whom are parent carers themselves, has produced a useful list of dos and don’ts for parent carers whose child is struggling to attend school. 

Read our SENDIASS Top Tips for when your child won’t go to school  

Or you can download our School avoidance and refusal fact sheet (pdf 700kb) for these tips and more. 

Both the Tips page and fact sheet have links to lots of other sources of information and advice around school avoidance. 

If you need to talk to someone about strategies to cope with school refusal, you could contact our SENDIASS advice line or join one of our online or in person parent to parent groups.

Elective home education (EHE)

Parents and carers can choose to teach their child at home, either full or part-time. This is called home education or elective home education. With elective home education (EHE), you choose to take on full responsibility for teaching your child at home, by yourself, perhaps using online learning or private tuition you pay for, or activities with a home education group. 

Sometimes EHE gets confused with other forms of home education such as EOTAS. See our guide to terms used around home education above 

No one should be forced to home educate. Some parents have felt pressured by their child’s school to consider home education in situations where the school is not meeting the child’s needs. They may be told they should do it to prevent prosecution for non-attendance, or because their child keeps being excluded from school. Another problem we have heard is the child being on such a part-time timetable or getting so little support that they feel they might as well home educate instead. 

If you are in a situation like this you can contact SENDIASS for advice and (if your child has an EHCP) speak to their Assessment and Planning Officer (APO) or Casework Officer (CWO) at the local authority.  

What legal duties do parents have around home education?

Parents have a legal duty to make sure their children receive a suitable full-time education by attendance at school or otherwise. This means you can choose to educate your child at home, ie elective home education (EHE). You don’t have to run this like a school or follow the national curriculum, but you do have to provide them with a suitable education. That includes meeting their special educational needs. 

If they are at a mainstream school, to electively home educate, you take them ‘off roll’ there by notifying the head teacher, and the school will tell the local authority. If they are at a special school, you have to get consent from the local authority (LA) to take them ‘off roll’ at the school. The LA will check in with you to make sure your child is getting a home education that meets their needs.   

What legal duties does the local authority have around elective home education?

If your child has an EHCP 

If you choose to electively home educate a child with an EHC plan, your local authority is likely to say that you are making your own arrangements for the child’s education, and so they will no longer be obliged to make any of the provision in your child’s EHC plan. In exceptional circumstances they might offer some discretionary support, but this is unlikely.  

Alternatively, you can ask for your child’s EHC plan to be amended to set out EOTAS rather than naming a school. This can be a bespoke package of home tuition and alternative provision because school provision is not appropriate for them. If you want this, you can ask for the EHC plan to be amended through the annual review process. If the LA does not agree, you could appeal to the SEND Tribunal. However, EOTAS can only be set out in an EHC plan where it can be demonstrated that it would be “inappropriate” for the provision to be made in a school, so this is not a quick and easy option to pursue.  

If your child doesn’t have an EHCP 

If your child has no EHC plan and you don’t want them to go to school, it is likely that the only option would be elective home education. The only exception is if your child is too ill to attend (and this can apply to some children with emotionally based school avoidance).  

When a child is too ill to attend school, their home education may be covered by the legal duty on local authorities to “secure suitable, full-time alternative education for those children of compulsory school age who, by reason of illness, exclusion or otherwise, may not for any period receive suitable education unless such arrangements are made for them”, called EOTAS. In this case they are likely to get only a few hours a week of tuition at home or in a local library or centre. See the section on EOTAS below. 

If your child needs an EHCP 

If you are already home educating, you have the same right to ask for an EHC needs assessment as if your child was going to school. Similarly, if your child is getting EOTAS because they have been excluded or due to long term illness, you can (and maybe should) request an EHC needs assessment – although this should not unnecessarily delay them getting back into a school if they can.  The key point is that there is no requirement for your child to be in school to be assessed or to get an EHC plan.   

For advice, contact our SENDIASS advice service.

Or get more information from your council’s website:

Education Otherwise Than At School (EOTAS)

EOTAS (Education Otherwise Than at School) is educational provision, provided by the local authority, that meets the needs of children and young people who, for whatever reason, are unable to attend school. With EOTAS, the local authority remains legally responsible for organising and funding your child’s special education provision. 

Why do some children and young people need EOTAS?

Some children and young people may have an illness or injury that makes them unable to attend school. If this period lasts longer than 15 school days and the child is aged five to 16, the local authority must provide alternative education for them either at home or in their healthcare setting until they are well enough to return to a school for their education. This is a common form of EOTAS. This can include children with mental health issues. There will need to be medical evidence of the ill-health.  

Some children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) may be unable to receive appropriate education in any school because of their particular needs. These children may also be entitled to EOTAS, if they have an Education, Health and Care plan and the local authority agree that EOTAS is necessary for their education. This would be written into their EHC plan and become the long-term arrangement for their education. 

What does EOTAS look like?

EOTAS provision could include:  

  • online schooling  
  • tuition at home  
  • tuition or training at a specialist centre  
  • hospital schooling  
  • therapeutic interventions  
  • life skills training, including travel training.  

What’s the difference between EOTAS and Elective Home Education?  

Parents can choose to educate their children from home, whether or not they have special educational needs or a disability (SEND). This is called Elective Home Education (EHE). EHE means families make their own arrangements and assume complete responsibility for their child’s education. If a child has an EHC plan and you choose to home educate them, the local authority no longer has a legal duty to make any special educational provision set out in the EHC plan, because you are deemed to be making your own suitable alternative arrangements.  

If, however, the local authority considers school or college to be inappropriate for a child or young person with an EHC plan, they can arrange for your child’s special educational provision to be delivered somewhere other than in a school, college or early years setting, which is called Education Otherwise than at School or EOTAS. With EOTAS, the local authority remains legally responsible for organising and funding your child’s special education provision.  

What makes an education setting ‘inappropriate’ for a child with SEND?  

EOTAS is only possible where a local authority is satisfied that it would be ‘inappropriate’ for a child or young person’s special educational provision to be made in a school. To meet this test, you need to demonstrate that education in a school setting would be inappropriate. This may mean providing evidence in the form of reports, meeting notes, letters, emails, medical records, etc. All a child or young person’s circumstances must be looked at including their background and medical history; their particular educational needs; the facilities that can be provided by a school; the facilities that could be provided other than in a school; the comparative cost of the possible alternatives to the child’s educational provision; the child’s reaction to education provisions, either at a school or elsewhere; the parents’ wishes and any other circumstances.  

EOTAS and EHC plans

Section F of a child or young person’s EHC plan specifies the special educational provision which will be delivered. Parent carers or young people need to ensure that full details of the agreed EOTAS package are described in section F of the plan. If your local authority agrees that a school setting is inappropriate, you can leave section I of the EHC plan (the setting) blank. However, if the local authority and yourselves agree that the best provision is a mixture of EOTAS and education in a school setting, they may name that particular setting, or type of setting, in section I of the EHC Plan. Just ensure that full details of any provision not being delivered at the school setting is specified within Section F of the EHC Plan.  

EOTAS and SEN support in mainstream school

If your child or young person does not have an EHC plan and you feel that their current educational placement is not working for them, or is in danger of breaking down, you should speak to the school or setting about reviewing the SEN support they receive. For more information see our page on ‘SEN Support in school’. If things do not improve, you could ask the local authority for an EHC needs assessment. This is a chance to identify all your child or young person’s needs and the support that they may need to learn. It might be, that with the right support, your child or young person can continue their education in their current setting. Alternatively, they may need special educational provision which could be provided in a different type of school or other than at school (EOTAS). To find out more see our page on ‘EHC assessments and plans’ 

Download our EOTAS fact sheet (pdf 750kb) for information and sources of help 

You can also read the information from your local authority:

Suspensions and exclusions

Suspensions and exclusions  

Children and young people who do not behave according to a school’s behaviour policy may be asked not to attend school for a fixed period of time (called a suspension) or to leave permanently (exclusion).  

Children with SEND may be more likely to have repeated short-term suspensions than their peers because their behaviour does not fit the norm, because their needs are not recognised or there is a mismatch between their needs and the support the school is currently providing. 

Read more on our page about suspensions and exclusions.

Get advice from Amaze

Our SENDIASS advice team can give you one to one advice on anything to do with education and your child or young person’s special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND).

Amaze SENDIASS adviser, Sally, on the phone in our office.