Senate's school refusal report a positive first step


The Greens have welcomed a Senate report on school refusal and have called on the federal government to work with states and territories to immediately begin implementing its recommendations.

The Greens last year initiated a Senate inquiry into what parents and carers prefer to call “school can’t”, the inability of a young person to attend school due to a severe negative emotional reaction, in response to growing calls for action from affected families.

The committee’s consensus report makes 14 recommendations, including:

  • development by education ministers of a national action plan within 12 months, with input from health and education professionals, service providers and people with lived experience;
  • establishing a funded independent peer support network;
  • increasing the number of subsidised mental health care visits for students experiencing school refusal;
  • improving child health and development screening to identify opportunities for early intervention;
  • developing school refusal resources for parents, teachers and school leaders; and
  • incorporating school refusal training within teacher education and supporting the use of trauma-informed practices in schools.

Comments attributable to Australia Greens spokesperson on schools Senator Penny Allman-Payne:

“The Greens are pleased that the committee was able to agree that school can’t is an urgent problem that requires an urgent response from the Commonwealth, states and territories.

“Despite the significant increase in students experiencing school can't, it's a problem that has largely gone unexamined to this point, with state and territory governments and school systems failing to collect comprehensive attendance data.

“As the inquiry heard, school can’t is an issue of inclusion. Too often students are required to adjust to the needs of educational systems and institutions, rather than the other way around.

“While disability and mental health are risk factors, a focus on disability as the cause of the issue overlooks the failure of schools and education systems to support inclusion.

“If we are to offer a truly inclusive education for all young people, including those experiencing school can’t, systems and institutions need to be prepared to adapt to meet those students’ needs. 

“We need to reduce the stigma and shame felt by students and their families and educate and upskill school administrators, teachers and the wider school community.

“Many students and their families are at breaking point. The need to act is urgent.”

Comments attributable to School Can’t Australia:

“Submissions to the inquiry demonstrated that school can’t is a significant issue that is impacting many families. Our parent peer support group has over 9000 members with 1600 waiting to join. We have been doubling in size every year.  

“Families in our community report significant stress accessing appropriate supports for their children and themselves. It affects their physical health, mental health and financial well-being.

“For many years, school attendance difficulties have been attributed to poor parenting or student mental health. Subsequently, intervention has focussed on parent training and the child’s avoidant behaviour.

“But it is School Can’t Australia’s lived experience that school can’t is a stress behaviour, not a misbehaviour. We need to identify the stressors that are impacting students and reduce exposure to them.

“Prioritising student well-being starts with prioritising teacher well-being. That means we need to resource and equip schools to respond to school can’t in ways that prioritise well-being, including encouraging collaboration with students and their families to identify and reduce stressors within the school environment.

“Our vision is that our children’s needs will be better understood and identified early, so that  support is provided before they reach crisis point, and that parents and their children no longer feel judgement and shame due to school can’t.

“School Can’t Australia welcomes the recommendation of funding for parent peer support.  Funding will help safeguard and develop this valued service.

“We thank the Senate for the opportunity to share our community’s lived experience. We also thank the many parents who shared their stories and completed surveys – their emotional labour was substantial.”