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(UK) Schools see anxiety 'tsunami' affecting students; "massive issue for many years"

Sept 14, 2021, BBC News: Parents warn of tsunami of school-anxiety cases https://www.bbc.com/news/education-58474418

Parent groups are warning of a "tsunami" of crippling school-anxiety cases leading to persistent and debilitating absence from education. There is no official data on absence due to school anxiety and many affected pupils are labelled truants but support groups are being flooded with calls. And an education lawyer in north-west England says the pandemic has made an "unprecedented crisis" even worse. The education department said it was investing £17m [$23M U.S.] in school mental health…. Fran Morgan, whose daughter experienced school anxiety, set up support organisation Square Peg to help other families in similar situations. "We are seeing a tsunami on the horizon," she says. The issue is poorly understood and often incorrectly labelled "school refusal". "It's not about refusal - it's not a child that won't do something. It's about a child that physically can't," Fran says. "It's a debilitating level of anxiety which prevents attendance and the consequences to families are catastrophic." Many parents are being prosecuted and fined under legislation put in place to stop parents taking children on holiday in term time…. "We know all the problems with the special educational needs and disability system, we know the problem accessing children mental health services - a lot of those children are the ones who are struggling to attend and parents are being penalised for that." 'Really tough' Matty, 16, from West Yorkshire, missed 18 months of schooling, after struggling with his mental health and having panic attacks…. "But I think what people don't understand about mental health and anxiety in particular is, like any health problem, if you can't do something, you can't do something." 'Unprecedented crisis' Sinclairs Law chief executive Mike Charles, a specialist solicitor in education law, says he is dealing with about 50 requests for help with the issue a week. "We are facing an unprecedented crisis of proportions we have never seen in certainly my experience, spanning 30 years," he says. "School anxiety and generally the mental health of our children has been a massive issue for many years but it's particularly more pronounced since the pandemic, because the impact this has had on children has undoubtedly affected their mental health in a very substantial way." Beth Bodycote founded the support group Not Fine In School nearly four years ago. But over the year to September 2021, coinciding with school lockdowns and the pandemic, its membership grew by nearly 50% - to 17,924. 'Punitive actions' Increasing numbers of children and young people are struggling with mental-health issues, including anxiety, stress, and depression, but many schools are adopting a stricter approach to attendance, Beth says. "For instance, we have seen families who had organised a temporary part-time timetable being told it is now no longer possible," she says…. And many families may still be waiting for mental-health support or have had it refused…. "Where a pupil does not attend, the school, family and council should work together to agree a plan for attendance, because the classroom is the best place for their education, development and wellbeing."