School refusal could be behind falling school attendance, Senate inquiry says

What is school refusal? A Senate inquiry has said it could be responsible for falling student attendance numbers across the country.
What is school refusal?

A Senate inquiry has found that school attendance has dropped by nearly 5% since the pandemic.

It says ‘school refusal’ could be to blame, which is tied to mental ill-health in students.

Falling attendance rates:

From 2019-2022, attendance rates in Australian schools fell from 91.4% to 86.5% across students in years 1-10.

During this time of increased remote learning, it’s believed school refusal also increased.

What is school refusal?

The inquiry states that school refusal is happening at the same time as the decline in attendance.

School refusal refers to a student’s regular and persistent negative emotional reaction to school. It’s often anxiety-based, and is not related to ‘wagging’ or temporary illness.

It’s understood to have a higher prevalence among autistic students and students with ADHD.

The Senate Committee was tasked with examining the rise in ‘school refusal’. It said data is limited due to a lack of detail around the reasoning for why students miss school.

However, it received 170 submissions from a range of stakeholders, including parents and teachers, about the suspected rising national trend.

School refusal clinic:

One submission was from John Chellew, who started the School Refusal Clinic in 2017 in Victoria. It has grown “exponentially” in recent years.

Chellew said the pandemic was a significant cause of stress for students, particularly for those who were transitioning between important school years.

For example, he said that many students who went from being in year 5 to year 7 were behind in their “educational, social, and emotional development” which “impacted their willingness to attend school”.


The Committee made 14 recommendations to target falling attendance rates.

Key recommendations were for the Government to increase funding for students’ access to mental health care and to have a more consistent recording of school refusal-related absences.

It also recommended that education ministers form a national action plan on school refusal.

Parliament’s response:

Education Minister Jason Clare said the report “made clear” the negative impact of school refusal. There will be further discussion before the Government finalises its response to the recommendations.

Shadow Education Minister Sarah Henderson called on the Government to accept all the recommendations. Henderson told TDA: “It is imperative that these students have all the support they need to ensure their education journey can still be successful.”

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