Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA) guidance

These pages have been produced by Brighter Futures for Children to provide good EBSA guidance to educational settings in Reading. The content is based on the current evidence-based literature, best practice and information sourced from Educational Psychology (EPS) services across the UK. A substantial portion of the content is derived from Dr. Jerricah Holder, Specialist Educational Psychologist, who offers an extensive Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course on Emotional-Based School Avoidance. Find out more via EdPsychEd | EBSA Horizons | Educational Psychology Online CPD

We also particularly acknowledge Sheffield EPS, Staffordshire EPS, Lancashire EPS, West Sussex EPS and Kirklees EPS.

Please note, our EBSA service was a short term funded project and we are very proud of the work the team have achieved in a short space of time. The service will close at the end of March 2024 and we would like to acknowledge the entire EBSA team for their work. In addition to the invaluable support provided to the children and young people they worked with, the training delivered to schools and BFfC practitioners has helped maintain the ongoing focus of our work with children who are unable to attend school due to their anxiety.

This page will be removed after the service closes, so we encourage you to visit Reading Family Information Service page for young people & mental health for advice and support available in Reading to help children with their mental health needs.

Click on a title below to expand the section.

We want to provide Reading educational settings with information that emphasises good practice, offers recommendations and resources to help professionals work collaboratively with parents/carers to support children and young people (CYP) experiencing Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA).  

EBSA is a complex area of need so a key objective is to advise educational settings in their planning, assessment and intervention in response to a child’s needs. 

Involvement from other services and professionals, as well as input from the families and CYP, can be crucial to effective intervention. Early intervention for children affected by EBSA is important to prevent their needs from escalating and to promote lasting, positive outcomes.  

Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA) has been described as “a pattern of absence where reluctance, or refusal, to attend or stay in educational settings is rooted in anxiety or fear. This may be the result of an interplay between personal, family, school, or wider environmental issues. It is not a diagnosis but a special educational need.” (Rae 2020) 

Children and young people experiencing EBSA are highly anxious and usually show significant distress about attending school.  

What does EBSA look like?  

A child or young person experiencing EBSA may exhibit one or more of the following associated behaviours (Rae, 2020):  

  • Crying 
  • Pleading  
  • Refusal to get ready for school or to leave the house 
  • Rumination and worry around school-related issues  
  • Sleep problems  
  • Psychosomatic illnesses (eg. headache/tummy ache occurring when no underlying medical cause can be found)
  • Defensive aggression (eg. may display when feeling ‘out-of-control’)

The EBSA team sits within the Early Help Pathway as part of Brighter Futures for Children. We are a small multi-disciplinary team that works directly with young people aged 11-16 years who are not attending school or classes due to anxiety or fear. We use a trauma-informed, restorative and systemic approach to work with young people, their families, and schools.

Our team consists of a family worker, youth worker and two emotional wellbeing practitioners who will work directly with the young person and their families. We also have an assistant educational psychologist who is the main contact between schools and families and is also involved in the consultation process with our EBSA managers.

We strive to work in ‘co-production’ with the young person, family members, school staff, school systems and the wider professional network.

We directly support children, young people, schools and families to understand reasons for school avoidance using a trauma informed approach. We want to emphasise the need for a graduated return to school alongside good support, reasonable adjustments and adaptations within the school environment.

Where possible, we want this process to have energy and to be goal driven as we know that the longer the young person is out of the classroom then the wider the gap grows in missed learning opportunities and peer learning.

In recognition of the impact on families of supporting a child experiencing EBSA, we work with the wider family as well as the young person. We understand the family will need support to find suitable strategies to help them and their child, and appreciate they will know the young person best. Where possible therefore, we support families to be the first to respond to their child’s needs. However, they are likely to need help with methods to reduce the level of the stress within the home environment to manage the well-being of all members of the household or family.

Face to Face support

For a child or young person to receive face to face support where they are struggling to attend school due to emotionally based school avoidance, they must:

  • Be of secondary age and on the role, or keen to get onto the role, of a mainstream secondary school or some alternative providers
  • The child or young person is staying at home due to anxiety or fear related to being in school
  • The parent/carers have made reasonable efforts, currently or at an earlier stage of the problems, to secure attendance at school, and/or the parents expressed their intention for the child or young person to attend school full time
  • The child or young person does not display severe anti-social behaviour, beyond resistance to parent/carer attempts to get them into school
  • There is no physical or medical reason for non-attendance (not including psychosomatic illnesses due to anxiety)
  • School can evidence cycles of assess-plan-review to support the child or young person to attend eg. using the Therapeutic Thinking model
  • The child or young person expresses a desire to be in school or class but feels unable to attend

We offer FREE monthly workshops to professionals working with children and young people where there are concerns around school avoidance and where this is linked to anxiety.

These workshops are offered online via TEAMS or face to face sessions in the council chambers in the Civic Centre.

Each workshop will be delivered by two members of the EBSA team featuring a presentation and an opportunity for questions with advice and guidance.

To book a place email Sinclair Jordan at sinclair.jordan@brighterfuturesforchildren.org.

Workshop dates:





5 March 2024, 1-2.30pm TEAMS Bibek/Philip