From Awareness to Action: Empowering Attendance Officers in Addressing Emotional Based School Avoidance (EBSA)

absenteeism attendance ebsa emotional based school avoidance school refusal school support Oct 19, 2023
Empowering Attendance Officers in addressing EBSA

Schools are dynamic, constantly evolving environments where various professionals play pivotal roles in supporting pupils’ well-being and learning. Amidst this, the role of attendance officers or education welfare officers, especially in addressing Emotional Based School Avoidance (EBSA), is crucial yet often underexplored.

Over the past few years there has been considerable effort to shift the narrative around EBSA, moving away from the language of “school refusal” to a more compassionate and person-centred approach that also considers the wider environmental factors that could be contributing to the EBSA. Emotionally Based School Avoidance is a broad umbrella term used to describe a group of children and young people who experience significant and enduring challenges in attending school due to emotional factors; mainly feelings of fear and anxiety. EBSA is more than just a child’s perceived dislike for school, it is rooted in emotional and physical anguish, and the child encounters significant distress when faced with the prospect of attending school.

Attendance officers, in this context, emerge as pivotal change agents within the school environment. Their role encompasses fostering awareness, facilitating early identification, championing child-centred approaches, and integrating multi-agency responses, thereby contributing significantly to shaping a school culture that is empathetic, supportive, and enabling for all pupils.

EBSA Horizons training for schools is comprehensive CPD course on Emotional Based School Avoidance by specialist Educational Psychologist, Dr Jerricah Holder, which develops our understanding and skills to support children and young people experiencing difficulties attending school.

Within the training, the EBSA Horizons Whole School Audit is an indispensable tool for attendance officers who are navigating the complex challenge of supporting children experiencing difficulties attending school / EBSA. It is an assessment and reflective tool to demonstrate thinking and the development of school practice over time. The intention of the tool is to facilitate long term systemic change in school provision, and the support for children who experience EBSA.

Bridging a critical gap in understanding and managing school non-attendance issues, the audit tool invites a whole-school reflective practice, exploring areas that require enhancement and ensuring a unified, informed approach towards supporting attendance and addressing EBSA. Particularly for attendance leads, the tool affords a structured framework that promotes early identification of children at risk of or experiencing EBSA, facilitating the implementation of proactive and informed interventions. In this context, the audit helps attendance officers to delve into the school’s current provisions and strategies, assessing their efficacy and identifying areas that may benefit from further professional development or systemic change.


EBSA School Audit


Furthermore, with an emphasis on a multi-agency response and child-centred approaches, the audit tool not only underscores the importance of early identification and prevention but also aligns the roles of various stakeholders, such as Educational Psychologists, health, or social care colleagues, ensuring a coherent, collaborative effort towards supporting children and their families effectively. Thus, the tool equips attendance officers with a strategic, encompassing approach to managing EBSA, paving the way for more compassionate, comprehensive, and child-centric attendance practices in schools.


Raising Awareness: A Key Step in the EBSA Journey

EBSA is not a novel concept. However, it is wrapped in layers of misconceptions and evolving understandings. The EBSA Horizons Whole School Audit Tool aims to both illuminate and navigate this complexity, by facilitating a systemic, development-oriented approach to understanding and addressing EBSA within school communities. It presents a structured mechanism to explore, assess, and reflect upon existing practices, aiming to catalyse long-term, systemic change in school provision and support for children and young people experiencing difficulties attending school.

 raising wareness EBSA


Raising awareness about EBSA is underscored as a pivotal first layer in the systemic change model. This involves nurturing a school-wide, informed, and sensitive approach towards identifying and addressing the needs of children experiencing EBSA. Here, the role of an attendance officer becomes crucial in fostering a knowledge-rich environment, through Continued Professional Development (CPD) opportunities, where all staff members are equipped with the understanding to identify early warning signs of EBSA and to support pupils adequately.

If through the auditing process Raising Awareness is identified as an area for development - perhaps a natural first step, for example, would be to:

  • Raise the topic of EBSA in team meetings, to get the conversation started, and to begin to gage the scale of the issue in your individual school context. Through these discussions, early on, you will be able to get a sense of the existing understandings of EBSA, even if just exploring what language people are using – are they using the language of EBSA or are they still ascribing to models of school refusal?
  • Share Information: You could put together some short input based on key learning from the EBSA Horizons training that you have received, sharing resources or videos from the course, such as videos of CYP talking about their experience of EBSA.
  • School Training: You may decide to take expressions of interest and organise a group membership for the EBSA Horizon’s Practitioner Training so that a small group of staff are trained in the approach and can help lead the way in re-thinking provision for these children.
  • External Agencies: It is also worth exploring whether your local Educational Psychology Service has developed their own EBSA Guidance and accompanying resources, as many Educational Psychology Services are doing so and these guidance's contain a wealth of resources, such as Child-friendly leaflets to support a child’s understanding around EBSA, as well as leaflets and resources for families – these can be distributed to families, and/or displayed in reception areas – again, to try and raise awareness of the needs of children experiencing EBSA and to establish the language of EBSA within your school community.


Early Identification: A Preventative Stance

The challenge of EBSA is further compounded by the scarcity of robust data concerning its prevalence. This barrier underscores the importance of early identification of children who may be at risk of or currently experiencing EBSA, thus necessitating the implementation of systematic mechanisms for recognising and addressing it at the earliest stages.

See the Checklist for Attendance Tracking and Support  from EBSA Horizons.

The EBSA Horizons Risk and Resilience Profiles also provide a valuable tool for achieving this, offering a means to screen and identify children who may be particularly susceptible to EBSA, especially during critical transitional periods. For attendance officers, utilising such tools means a move towards a preventative stance, where potential EBSA cases are identified and addressed before they escalate - Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA) | 3 FREE Key Resources


Child-Centred Approaches: Honouring the Individual

A child-centred approach positions the child’s voice and experiences at the forefront of understanding and intervention strategies for EBSA. This underscores a vital principle: understanding the specific risk and resilience factors pertinent to each child’s EBSA experiences, ensuring strategies and reintegration plans are collaborative and aligned with the child's and family's identified strengths and needs.

Attendance officers, in embracing a child-centred paradigm, become crucial facilitators in ensuring the child’s voice is heard and validated within the broader school framework. This involves ensuring that intervention strategies, curricular aspects, and school culture are sensitively attuned to the emotional and psychological needs of pupils navigating EBSA.


A Multi-agency Response: Integrating External Supports

Addressing EBSA effectively requires a multi-faceted, multi-agency approach that integrates support from various external entities, including health and social care sectors. A concerted effort involving close liaison between home and school, and incorporating support from various professional entities, is crucial in offering a robust, well-rounded support network for children experiencing EBSA.

In this realm, attendance officers function as essential connectors, linking the school’s internal mechanisms with external agencies, and ensuring a cohesive, coordinated response to EBSA. This involves actively liaising with entities like the Child and Family Welfare (C&FW) services, School Nurses, and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and ensuring that support provision is holistic, responsive, and adaptive to the evolving needs of the child and family.


In Conclusion: The Systemic Change Model and Beyond

EBSA Horizons Practitioner training culminates in an integrated, structured approach towards developing school practices that are both compassionate and child-centred, utilising the Systemic Change Model. It provides a robust framework, encapsulated by the EBSA Horizons Practitioner, for navigating the multifaceted challenges posed by EBSA and ensuring that school practices evolve and adapt in a manner that is deeply attuned to the needs of children experiencing EBSA.

Attendance officers, in this context, emerge as pivotal change agents within the school environment. Their role encompasses fostering awareness, facilitating early identification, championing child-centred approaches, and integrating multi-agency responses, thereby contributing significantly to shaping a school culture that is empathetic, supportive, and enabling for all pupils.

The pathway forward, illuminated by the EBSA Horizons Whole School Audit and Systemic Change Model, promises a journey where schools evolve into empathetic, enabling environments, where every child, regardless of their struggles with EBSA, is seen, heard, and supported.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

Attendance Officers have a crucial role in offering children, young people and their families vital support around school attendance. Addressing Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA), School Refusal, and Persistent Absenteeism can be challenging to navigate. Here are some frequently asked questions that can support your role.


In What Ways Can EBSA Horizons Enhance the Capacity of Attendance Officers to Address EBSA Effectively?

EBSA Horizons can strengthen the capabilities of attendance officers in managing EBSA by providing comprehensive training and resources that delve into the complexities of emotionally based school avoidance. The training equips attendance officers with a robust understanding of EBSA, its underlying causes, and effective intervention strategies. Furthermore, it provides practical tools and approaches for early identification, supportive intervention, and collaborative work with parents, carers, and multi-disciplinary teams. EBSA Horizons also emphasises a compassionate and child-centred approach, ensuring that attendance officers are well-equipped to navigate the delicate balance between upholding attendance policies and providing sensitive support to pupils experiencing EBSA.


How does the EBSA Horizons Whole School Audit tool enhance the capacity of attendance officers in addressing Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA)?

The EBSA Horizons Whole School Audit tool is designed to enhance the capacity of attendance officers by providing a structured framework that allows for a meticulous evaluation of the school’s existing practices and policies regarding EBSA. It promotes a comprehensive understanding of emotionally based school avoidance and aids in the early identification of pupils at risk. Furthermore, the audit tool facilitates a holistic, coordinated approach towards managing EBSA, ensuring that attendance officers can efficiently collaborate with other stakeholders, thereby improving the implementation of informed, proactive, and empathetic interventions and support strategies for affected pupils and their families.


How can attendance officers use the audit tool to formulate and implement effective interventions for children experiencing EBSA?

The audit tool helps attendance officers by delivering key insights into the existing gaps and strengths in the school's approach towards managing EBSA. By thoroughly examining and reflecting upon the current policies, practices, and strategies, attendance officers can identify specific areas that require enhancement or modification. This information becomes instrumental in formulating targeted, data-driven interventions that address the identified needs and challenges. Furthermore, by providing a structured approach towards understanding and managing EBSA, the audit tool enables attendance officers to devise interventions that are not only remedial but also preventative, ensuring that support mechanisms are in place to facilitate early identification and assistance for children who may be at risk of experiencing EBSA in the future.

 EBSA Horizons


EBSA Horizons School Staff Training

EBSA Horizons School Training is a comprehensive CPD course for School Staff, which develops understanding and skills (alongside a lot of resources) to support children and young people experiencing difficulties attending school. This course has been updated for 2023 with a new chapter -

Chapter 6:  The Systemic Change Model of EBSA

Find out more about EBSA Horizons School Training here and register your interest to receive 3 FREE resources from this course.


EBSA Horizons Educational Psychologist CPD

EBSA Horizons is a comprehensive CPD course for EPs, which develops understanding and skills (alongside a lot of resources) to support children and young people experiencing difficulties attending school. This course has been recently updated for 2023 with two new chapters -

Chapter 6:  Supporting Autistic CYP Experiencing EBSA

Chapter 7:  Entrenched EBSA

Find out more about EBSA Horizons here and register your interest to receive 3 FREE resources from this course.




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