For the last term and a half our 13-year-old daughter has been refusing to go to school.

This currently consists of not getting up, or not getting dressed, or ripping her school uniform so she has nothing to wear, hiding her shoes, refusing to leave the house, and so on.

Last term she often said that she felt unwell, sometimes a headache, sometimes feeling sick, or sometimes her arm hurting. She had many investigations by the GP and the hospital; generally the diagnosis was that she is a healthy girl, but tense, and the GP has suggested an anxiety disorder.

This term, the only way we have been able to get her to go in has been to micro-manage her morning routine, checking every 5 or 10 minutes that she is awake, starting to get dressed, packed her bag, wearing shoes, and so on.

Even then she will still sometimes refuse to leave, just standing there motionless. On various different occasions we have had to put her shoes on her, and this morning I had to physically drag her from the house to the bus stop, with her trying to grab onto the door, the railings, the gate, and then refusing to get on the bus until I dragged her on with me. She was crying and screaming all the time.

The school is obviously unhappy with her lack of attendance, and we have been in to see our daughter's head of year and headteacher several times. The school reassures us that whenever they check on her, she is playing happily with friends, or working well in lessons, and that there must be some problem at home. However, during the two week half term (just ended) she was a lovely, happy girl, enjoying meeting up with her friends to play.

The school is now talking about us being prosecuted for failing to send her to school. (We are in the UK, where - as they keeps reminding us - parents can be sent to prison if their kids do not attend school.) Her attendance this term is currently around 55% - typically we can get her to go in 2-3 days a week.

I am in tatters over having to use force like this. As I write this it is two hours since I got her on the bus, but I am still shaking and in tears. Furthermore, using force like this could no doubt also get me sent to jail.

There are clearly some issues with school: for one, her allocated school locker is a touchy subject. She complains that she doesn't have one, but gets evasive and gives inconsistent answers when we quiz her on this at different times. It seems that the school gave each of them keys to their own locker, but now another girl is using our daughter's for her PE (Physical Education) kit (so that she has two lockers, one for her books and one for her PE kit).

The school claims not to have records of which locker was assigned to which girl, and has asked for us to get further details of this; when we suggest that we talk to the school about her locker she demands that we not do so.

(This reminds me very much of when I was bullied at secondary school: the boys who were taking the books out of my school bag told me that if I went to my parents or the teachers they would make my life even worse.)

There also seem to be some issues to do with her homework: while she is generally a bright girl, she sometimes gets stuck on homework. She absolutely hates to be noticed or make a fuss, so won't ask the teacher for clarification or help. But she is also very eager to please, and hates to disappoint, so she hates to hand in work that isn't perfect. Then she's stuck.

Neither me nor my wife know how to help her with this stalemate.

We are awaiting referrals for help with her mental health around this, but are completely out of ideas.

It is also particularly hard (i.e. often impossible) to get her to go in on a day that there is PE. Unlike our other daughters, this one seems embarrassed by the changes her body is undergoing; she is very much in the middle of her changes; she hunches her shoulders forward so the shape of her chest can't be seen.

Her school attendance is at the point of tearing our family apart.

I don't think the issue is just one of bullying: I think there are multiple issues all happening at once. Obviously resolving any one of these issues is going to take time, but we need her to be going to school every day.

We have obviously considered moving her to another school, but the homework and body-image issues will follow with her, and it has been our experience (both with other daughters and those of our friends) that there will be bullying at any school. So she would have to start again; at least at the current school she does have some friends.

(When we ask her if she'd like to change schools, sometimes she says yes, sometimes she says no.)

We have tried discussing the subject head-on with her, but again she gets evasive and becomes uncommunicative.

Both my wife and I work full time. It is likely that one of us will have to give up work to deal with this; that would involve selling our house (we live in the house that my wife's parents lived in before they died; it has been in her family for something like 30 years) and moving to a much cheaper area. We have lived in this area for 25 years, so all our friends and support network is here.

Our daughter has two older sisters: 16 and 18. The oldest is away at university. Neither of them had any problems with school attendance; they are both bemused by her behaviour, tell her she must go in, but she still won't.

We have been unsuccessful in determining what specific issues there are, nor has she confided in her sisters or friends (that we've been able to find out). We are only aware of the locker issue because of noticing her evasion and inconsistent answers to some very specific questions. The other issues are really supposition.

If anyone has any ideas we are clutching at straws.

  • I would investigate distance education options, so she can work from home. My son has been doing it part time since age 11 with little on the spot oversight from me (I go over it later) - all the materials are online.
    – Jim W
    Commented Nov 29, 2021 at 19:05

23 Answers 23


(Background: I saw this question on SE and am answering from an anonymous account because of personal details). I'm not a parent but feel the need to post because this resonated strongly with me.

Your daughter sounds like she's otherwise a normal, bright and happy teenage girl, with no major problems except for this school attendance issue. It's also obvious that the extent of her dislike for school is far beyond a typical teenage rebellion or desire to skip class. Please also understand I am not trying to worry you with this answer.

What you describe sounds very much like she's being abused at school. Most likely severe bullying by other pupils, but it's also possible that the staff are to blame either because they actively participate in the abuse or willfully ignore the abuse from pupils. While she obviously has to attend school, I think her attendance is less important than the underlying issues now - she can catch up academically later on anything she misses due to low attendance, but there's a real possibility that being at school is now harmful to her.

At the age of 12-13, I acted quite similarly to what you describe. Due to the school system back then, I didn't have to physically resist going to school, but it was possible for me to fake attendance, to which I devoted a lot of effort. I rarely went to class, was evasive on any school-related subjects with my parents, and was particularly evasive regarding various material possessions (there were no lockers or such though). PE was my biggest problem and I skipped PE lessons for a year, even on days when I otherwise went to class. This is why your daughter's behaviour sounds familiar.

My issues were primarily caused by bullying from other kids, with most of the staff silently ignoring it. I was constantly verbally and psychologically bullied, with occasional attacks on my possessions - my bag or books would be stolen or damaged, once my schoolbag was stolen and then thrown at a teacher's head out of the window, attempting to frame me for that.

PE lessons were when the bullying quite consistently was worse, even getting physical. I had sometimes had my clothes stolen or destroyed, and of course PE, due to its nature, provided plenty of opportunity to do things like "accidentally" hitting me in the face, over the head, tripping me over, and so on. The PE teacher was, as I understand now, also an adult that shouldn't have worked with children - the teacher would often verbally humiliate me and make jokes at my expense (I was a kid with a small build and mediocre coordination). This is why PE eventually became the focal point of my school problems and I started skipping it entirely - and I was definitely willing to violently resist had anyone tried dragging me to PE.

I strongly suspect your daughter is experiencing something similar. If she's being bullied, the bullying could also be centered around sensitive issues. Having slight body issues is not too uncommon for a girl her age, but bullying could turn those into severe issues, such as her being afraid of her overall chest shape being seen.

I also find the school's behaviour very worrying. If they know about her problems from you, and are themselves being evasive about lockers and threatening to prosecute your family, then it's possible that the school is covering something up, such as the staff knowing about the bullying but neglecting it.

Your daughter may benefit from a therapist. Assuming my guess is correct, she really needs to feel safe - which she doesn't at school. She needs to be fully aware that your first priority is her general well-being and not her grades or attendance right now. Ultimately, you need to get her to a point where she's comfortable telling you the truth, even if it is that she's being abused at school and threatened against talking about it or even changing schools.

My suggestions, specifically:

  • Do not assume the school has her best interests at heart, don't assume that she is safe at school (mentally first and foremost).

  • If she has any good friends at school, talk to them in private. Ask them if they have any idea that could help you. I specifically mean her friends, not their parents - if there's a major problem, her same-age friends may have noticed something but their parents would likely not know.

  • Look into appropriate therapists who could help your daughter talk. She might find it easier to open up to a stranger.

  • Let her know, very explicitly, that you will not blame her for any problems other may cause her, and that your first priority is her well-being and safety. Let her know you're willing to send her to a different school or do anything else that may help her. She may be almost ready to tell you the truth but be too afraid of your reaction.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 11:43

First, please let me express my sympathy with what seems to be an extremely difficult situation. What follows does not mean I am not sympathetic with your struggles.

You seem to have a few ideas of why your daughter is behaving the way she is (as she is not totally forthcoming), but this has been going on for a term and a half. Your daughter's behavior is decidedly not normal. If you can't get to the bottom of this, she is in immediate need of someone who can. A good therapist is a start, and it's difficult to understand why more hasn't been done on this front (caveat: I do not live in the UK.) She should already have started therapy.

Though you can't rely 100% on the reports of her teachers, you should be talking with all of them regularly to compare and contrast her behaviors, looking for a pattern. This does sound like possible bullying or even abuse.

If she is suffering from body image issues, a safe place to change into and out of her PE uniform should be provided by the school, or you can request that she be absented from PE altogether, and provide the school authorities with an acceptable outside alternative.

The locker bit - if true - is bullying. Why are you letting the school staff get off the hook by saying they don't have records of which locker was assigned to which girl? You and they are the adults here, not your daughter. Of course she won't want more negative attention if this is really happening. Have someone open her locker and see what's inside!

If there are issues with her performance in certain subjects, hire her a tutor. Get her tested for dyslexia. Sit and do her homework with her to figure out what she doesn't get. But do something.

The school is now talking about us being prosecuted for failing to send her to school.

This seems somewhat Dickensian. Will it really solve anything? How real is this threat? Is it merely a fine? If so, use that money to get her a good therapist.

What I'm getting at is that even without knowing the root of the problem, there are measures (admittedly possibly stop-gap) that you can be taking to address the problems you do know about until someone gets to the root of this issue.

At the heart of the issue, though, is what's best for your daughter. Get her to a good adolescent therapist who can get her to open up and get to the bottom of this (oftentimes it's easier to admit of abuse to a stranger than to family), and who networks with a psychiatrist (again, I'm unfamiliar with the health care system in the UK) so that if this turns out to be an anxiety disorder of some kind - OCD/social phobia/other - she can get the care (and possibly the medication*) she needs.

*The mention of medication will cause some to protest vigorously, no doubt. However, I have seen medication work seeming miracles. I'm not talking about quackery here; I'm talking about a proper diagnosis and treatment. Whether that be CBT, meds, or some other modality.

  • 17
    Thank you for the detailed answer - there's lots for us to think about (and stuff for us to do) here. I will be leaving this for a day or two to allow for others to reply before accepting an answer. Regarding prosecution, yes, the UK does sent parents to prison every year when their kids don't attend school: bbc.co.uk/news/education-33861985.
    – user25088
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 15:15
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; please use Parenting Chat!
    – Acire
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 14:23
  • 2
    @user25088 In the UK it is legal to home educate though, eg see bbc.co.uk/schools/parents/home_education . Education is a legal requirement but school isn't. (Obviously home education is not something to be undertaken lightly though).
    – A E
    Commented Dec 26, 2016 at 12:43

There's a very good chance your daughter is being bullied.

My experience with my then 13-year-old son was almost identical to what you describe. It took several months to find out what exactly was happening, and we discovered that the authorities - teacher, school principal, school psychologist - simply tried to deny that it was happening.

Bullying amounts to a catastrophic attack on your daughter's self-esteem. It will take years of counselling to rebuild.

Based on my own experience, the school authorities will flat-out deny that it's happening because bullying in their school is a black mark on their credibility.

Authorities believe that they intervene in over 95 percent of all bullying cases; however, a landmark study by the Toronto Board of Education done about 20 years ago proved that authorities intervened in fewer than TWO percent of all cases of bullying. In other words, far more bullying takes place than school authorities cotton on to.

Recent studies conclude that kids who do the bullying are just as likely to be girls as boys. They also conclude that the bully's parents are usually unaware that their kid is a bully. If they are made aware, chances are they'll just deny it.

What I suggest:

  • see if you can observe what takes place during recess and lunch break;

  • if your daughter has close friends who go to the same school, see if their parents can do a little research to find out what's happening (unfortunately, victims tend to be isolated; that's why they're targeted by bullies)

  • look for another school; the authority figures at your daughter's school will gladly blame the victim if it gets them off the hook.

  • consult a lawyer; a well-place letter from a lawyer to a district school board may get higher authority figures to take the issue seriously, because if there's anything they fear, it's bad publicity with their names attached to it.

There's likely to be no really positive outcome. But if you can find a school environment that your daughter can be reasonably comfortable in, that may be as good an outcome as you can hope for.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Aug 19, 2021 at 9:45

First, I agree with the other posters who suggest that your daughter may be trying to avoid an abusive situation, and that this should be taken very seriously. In the short term, though, what should you do?

You wrote that

We are in the UK, where - as they keeps reminding us - parents can be sent to prison if their kids do not attend school.

This is not, strictly speaking, true. A more accurate statement would be:

In England the Education Act on 1944 means that parents are legally obliged to educate their children, but do not have to do so by sending their child to school. The Direct Gov website (by the Government) lists a parent's duty. This is: that a 'child is not obliged to follow the National Curriculum or take national tests, but as a parent you are required by law to ensure your child receives full-time education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude'.


In other words, homeschooling is legal in the UK. I would consider having a serious discussion with your daughter about that as an option, even if it is only a temporary solution while you work on resolving whatever issues are traumatizing her so severely in school.

  • 15
    We took one of our children out of school and homeschooled them for a year after a particularly difficult year for them - around age 12-13, in fact. After a year of homeschooling we switched them to a new school and they are doing very well now. We didn't suspect bullying or abuse, but given the strenuous objection she has to school I wouldn't discount the possibility. That said, a year of homeschooling - which you can accomplish for most bright youth after work - may be worth looking into if changing schools outright isn't an option.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 3:40
  • 1
    Indeed, homeschooling might be worth considering. Being away from school should help relax the situation. And then, everything else might be simpler. She could also opt to go back to school at some later time... Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 18:31

Have you tried talking to her?

The first question I would ask is:

Would you like to change school?

If she said yes, ask why.

I had a similar issue with my sister-in-law, she didn't wanted to go to school because of bullying.

But the issues could be something else, as for example, abuse as suggested before, but it could have been also a silly thing for us adults that is not so silly for a teenager.

The thing is, if she does not want to change school, then it means that there is nothing wrong with the school, but there is something with her, as for example depression.

If she does not want to talk, a good friend of her may give you some answers.

  • 3
    I second this strongly. Ask her if she would like to change schools asap. To me, all the signs of this point to an abusive or bullying situation. Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 17:17
  • 17
    I think it's a bit hasty to say that just because she isn't sure she wants to change schools that it's not a problem with the school. She may not want to leave the friends she has, or may just figure she'll run into the same type of abuse at a new school (if it is abuse or bullying). Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 17:27
  • 5
    @IllusiveBrian Furthermore, if it is an adult doing the abuse, there is a possibility that real threats were made that moving would not solve. Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 18:09

Something bad is happening to her at school, something quite bad judging from the severity of her aversion. It could be severe bullying, or it could be abuse, possibly sexual. It likely has a physical aspect given it seems to center on PE.

I would try to get her to talk about it to figure out what it is. Offer to allow her to stay out of school for gym days for a couple of weeks, or to stay out of school entirely for a week. If questioned, tell the school you are concerned about possible abuse, possibly by school staff, and you want it resolved before sending her back in. Also call the hotline at the site someone mentioned in the comment - https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-you-can-do/report-abuse/

If you can't find out what the problem is, change schools. She isn't objecting strongly, and it's likely the problem involves specific people, who won't be at the new school. It's not a guaranteed fix, but it should at least help.

  • 4
    Thank you for the answer. I have to say that the thought of abuse hadn't occurred to either of us; we will be having a discussion about that later.
    – user25088
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 15:13
  • re: "stay out of school entirely for a week" I don't think that is reasonably good advice given the threat of prosecution that OP mentioned.
    – user11666
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 22:10
  • 2
    @DoritoStyle On the other hand they haven't been prosecuted yet despite 45% nonattendance, which provides a baseline for where the threshold is. The part about reporting suspected abuse is important to put the school on the defensive, to be blunt about things.
    – Warren Dew
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 13:47

There are a variety of underlying health issues that can result in school refusal. My 13yo went through a period of school refusal, but not as strong and not as prolonged as your daughter's. My son has several neurological things going on, including OCD, which can be difficult to detect and diagnose. But as the other answers and comments indicate, there are a number of different underlying things than can produce the same result.

The advice everyone has given you to get her started in therapy is right on target, of course, but my experience has shown me that sometimes it takes a while to get the right fit, and even after that, to start to see improvement.

Therefore I have some specific suggestions for you, while that is falling into place.

  1. Consider an alternative school placement. Where I live, in the U.S., young people who are going through a rough patch can attend a small alternative program for a month. See what is available where you are.

  2. Consider homebound instruction. Here is a link to one such program: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/nonpub/handbookonservices/homeboundinstruction.html Note, I think it is too soon to start thinking about selling your house, downsizing, one parent giving up a job. However, you might want to consider one parent taking a temporary leave of absence. You can also hire a child minder to keep your daughter safe and cared for at home during your absence.

  3. If you want to try to get a feel for how therapists evaluate for OCD, take a look at OCD in Children and Adolescents: A Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment Manual (hopefully available at your library, if only through interlibrary loan). My son's therapist was not finding the OCD, until I gave my son a shortened version of the questionnaire in the back of this book, at home. I took notes of his answers, took them to the therapist, and she was finally able to see what he had not been able to share with her -- despite her being a warm, skilled therapist, and despite him being very fond of her. The problem was that she just didn't have the specialized training -- and OCD can be quite hard to diagnose without that specialized training.

  4. It would be helpful in many ways to involve your daughter's primary care provider. Do you call that a G.P. in the U.K.? Her doctor can help you get the services your daughter needs, and can also discuss possible pharmacological treatments.

  5. Consider making a few observations at school. You might be surprised how helpful this can be. (Example: when my son was in fifth grade, I knew something was wrong, but he couldn't put his finger on it to help me understand. When I went to the October Open House, and sat at his desk, I found out that his teacher had seated him where he couldn't see the board, and couldn't see her face. Two minutes into her presentation I knew what was wrong -- his ADHD was driving her nuts, and she tried to solve the problem in the only way she knew how.)

  6. Make an appointment after school for the school's director (principal? headmaster/headmistress?) to visit your daughter's locker with you, for the two of you to discreetly try opening it and checking the contents together -- probably without your daughter being present.

  7. Take a look at a couple of the lists that are published online about school accommodations. Pick a few of the ideas you read, that you think are most likely to help your daughter be more comfortable going to school, and ask the school to trial them to see if they help. It might be overwhelming to show one of these long lists to your daughter; nevertheless, do try to get some input from her about what she thinks might help. Example: https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/Classroom-Ideas-to-Reduce-Anxiety

  8. If changing schools is a feasible option... observe the potential new school; compare your impressions with your observations of her current school. If the new one looks promising, arrange for your daughter to visit it too. Usually the best way to do this is to arrange a "shadow". A compassionate, friendly child her age volunteers to be her host, and your daughter would attend her host's classes with her, sit with her at lunch, etc. Where I live, one of the schools uses this as the standard way of introducing fifth graders to middle school, the spring before making the change.

If it turns out that your daughter is given a diagnosis of one sort or another, see if you can find a way for her to spend some time with other young people with the same diagnosis, even if you have to travel a bit. A few months after my son was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, we attended a weekend Tourette family retreat. It was worth the 5-hour drive! He came home feeling much less weird, more accepting of his differences.

  • @user25088 - Came across a nice article today on your topic: chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/366261/jewish/…. It's written by a rabbi but the article itself is totally secular in its approach. Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 23:32
  • +1 for recommending against parent quitting job etc - I'd say she probably needs home stability right now to help counteract whatever is happening at school, and dramatic changes to house and family income would be major destabilizing factors.
    – MAA
    Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 14:21

Another possibility that occurred to me while reading this is that she may be having gender identity issues. My youngest child (now 17) recently transitioned from their birth gender (female) to non-gender binary and had their breasts removed over the summer. The change in their demeanor has been striking - they are much happier in school now.

We have been to see several different therapists to help with this, including family therapy for all of us, therapy for just my wife and I, and private therapy for our child. This has taken place over the last 2 1/2 years or so.

  • 8
    not sure if there is anything in the question that indicates gender issues - can you expand on specific indicators?
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 20:21
  • 3
    @RoryAlsop "Unlike our other daughters, this one seems embarrassed by the changes her body is undergoing; she is very much in the middle of her changes; she hunches her shoulders forward so the shape of her chest can't be seen." Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 22:07
  • 6
    Definitely a possibility, but I wouldn't recommend OP lean towards it unless a therapist is able to get an idea about it. I would recommend OP find a therapist some experience in gender related issues.
    – user11666
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 22:26
  • 1
    My daughter had similar problems when she hit 12 - she was finding it difficult to cope with the rapid changes that happen when puberty hits, to the point she was talking about having bits "chopped off". She's a gymnast so obviously pretty lean yet with muscle, so neither myself or the wife could first understand the body image issues. Every kid goes through a process of finding themselves - it takes time, and sometimes they end up being someone that doesn't fit the body they have. Though this particular issue sounds (imho) more like bullying, I wouldn't discount anything!
    – Charleh
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 18:53
  • 2
    I joined the site to answer this question but I'm unable to. So I'm leaving a comment on this question because I think they may be right. This was the age my daughter decided she identified as a male. I'd strongly recommend preemptively saying you support any LGBT decisions your daughter may make and seeing if attending a school without a school uniform would be an attractive option for her. Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 2:23

My daughter was truant from school from 15-17. We were involved with the county courts in the US due to missing school. Counseling, school trackers, probation with the courts, threats to move her to a group home - nothing helped. There were no other issues other than truancy. Only after she tried a different High School did she determine to get her General Education Diploma and not graduate from High School. She was told by everyone she would amount to nothing. She obtained her GED within 6 weeks. I had tried everything from extreme fighting, talking until I felt that there was nothing new to try to discover, to finally telling her this was her life and I had to turn this over to her. It took her about another year to finally tell me what she could not figure out when she was in the midst of High School. She did not fit in with the kids she wanted to be friends with. She did not have good friends in school. She had anxiety after she would miss classes. Teachers were unkind after she missed classes. Administrators were worse. She was not bullied. She just did not find her fit and did not want to be there. I do not have the solution for you. I do feel your pain. The good to my story is that my daughter turned 18 and from my consistent message of standing beside her through this and that she needed to take charge of her own life decisions at even at 17 - she decided she wanted to attend college part time and get a full time job. Once she met other like-minded college women she took off! She has a life plan now and is living it. My prayer for you is that you are able to assist your daughter to find her way and that it does not take you 2 years.


Your daughter's at a difficult age. The school may be expecting more from her academically, and at 13 most kids are going through enough biological changes to bring out bullying, depression, pressure from peers to try drugs and sex, etc. so for a lot of kids school becomes a harrowing experience. I think if she's resisting that much it would be respectful of her to listen to her. It may be worth consider taking a short leave of absence.

Homeschooling may be a solution. If you're spending more time with her, the source of her distress may emerge more easily. In the meantime she can keep learning without the pressure of the school environment, maybe even figuring out what interests her as secondary school approaches. You also send the crucial message to her that you take her seriously.

In the UK there is a well established nonprofit organization called Education Otherwise that addresses compulsory education laws and offers a support network for families. The FAQ on the website states "The law in England states that education is compulsory but school is not." and has documentation and instructions for a parent who wishes to take a child out of school.

Maybe once she's through this rough patch she'll return to school with a more assertive attitude: In the years we've homeschooled I've known a lot of families who took their kids home because of bullying or health reasons or learning problems, then they returned to school after things had resolved. Good luck!


Your child is currently being failed by the school and the medical system. She has something like a school phobia (although there are good reasons why nobody should diagnose over the Internet, especially non experts).

The school should be supporting you to get treatment. This would include treatment for her, and some family therapy for you all to understand how best to support her. They've threatened prosecution. To reassure you, the fact that you're seeking treatment, and have asked the school to help you, should be seen as you being protective of her. Please do document the school's failure to support your child. You may want to contact your local child safeguarding board to raise a concern about the school's lack of help.

Sadly, CYPS (children and young people's mental health services) are currently massively oversubscribed and under funded. There's some recent investment in the form of the Young People's Transformational Plan, but some clinical commissioning groups have spent this money on other stuff. Please, if you find your experiences of getting treatment aren't good let your MP know.

To get treatment you need to go to your GP and push. You need to be polite, but assertive.

Because of the regional nature of clinical commissioning groups it's tricky to know what's available in your area. Some areas are better than others (they spent the YPTP cash on young people).

Here are some example websites giving some information:

Gloucestershire: (text co-created with young people. All artwork created by young people. A lovely site.) https://www.onyourmindglos.nhs.uk/

Liverpool: (Award winning CYPS / CAMHS): http://www.freshcamhs.org/

National Charity MIND has some info for young people: http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/children-and-young-people/

Getting mental health treatment for a child is a difficult time for the family, but it's important to remember that most mental health problems are very treatable, and respond well to early intervention.

Good Luck.


We have tried discussing the subject head-on with her, but again she gets evasive and becomes uncommunicative.

Seriously? That's all? You're willing to physically drag your daughter to school and consider uprooting your entire family, but when simply trying to talk to her you just give up when she doesn't cooperate?

Your priorities are messed up here (not necessarily your goal priorities, but definitely your action priorities).

Drop everything else right now and do whatever you have to do to get your daughter to trust you!

Because she obviously doesn't, and with good reason, given how much effort you're willing to spend on superficial measures and how little on trying to understand her view. Note: I'm not saying you don't love her or don't have her best interest at heart - but you seem to be approaching the issue in all the wrong ways, and possibly giving her some very wrong impressions.

Another factor is that at her age she desparately wants to be more independant and may pursue some self-defeating strategies in that regard.

So I suggest you (or your wife, whoever you think she'll be more likely to open up to) try again to talk to her, and try much harder this time. You must to convince her of some points:

  • That you honestly want to understand why she doesn't want to got to school and will take whatever she says seriously and not dismiss it.
  • That you will not be angry, belittle her or punish her, no matter what she says.
  • That you love her and your number one priority in this is to help her be happier - not to keep up appearances or make her conform to expectations.
  • That you're willing to let her make her own decisions (within reason) and work together to solve these problems, not just impose your will on her.
  • 4
    This isn't a particularly helpful answer. It is somewhat judgy and seems to make unwarranted assumptions about what has transpired when the parents have tried to deal with this. As a parent, you might be proud of your telling off skills, but you don't need to practise them on the OP.
    – jwg
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 23:49
  • 2
    @jwg: My "assumptions" consist on going by the details in the question. And as I see it, I am adressing the core of the problem that most others are ignoring. Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 8:57
  • Good approach! That struck me too: in one paragraph "she gets evasive" and on the next "one of us needs to quit a job, we need to sell a house". Seems like a lot of drama, but lack of information from the source. Although @MichaelBorgwardt the answer would be even nicer if you'd expand a bit the how to part. The desired end result is spelled out completely.
    – kubanczyk
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 21:35
  • @kubanczyk: I'm not sure I can say much on the how, it depends on the girl's responses and what exactly she's afraid of. The key is probably convincing her that her feelings, opinions and decisions are being taken seriously - nothing makes a teenager more furious and obstinate than not being taken seriously. Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 22:45

I agree with the top voted answers in that there is clearly some strong and compelling reason why she really doesn't want to go to school.

Consider that she in in a situation where everything in here life is forcing her to do something that she really really doesn't want to do. This is something that it is not necessarily easy for an adult (living in a modern democracy) to comprehend fully as while you of course have all sorts of pressures you are rarely actually forced to do anything against your will.

Also understand that it may be extremely difficult for her to explain what the problem is. This doesn't reflect on you nor doe sit man that she is being difficult or secretive it is probably just very hard for her to articulate.

I would suggest that the first thing you should do is to tell her that you realise that she is having problems and tell her that you are unconditionally on her side. Bear in mind that she may well be aware of expectations you have on her (even if they are in her best interests) and hr problems may be compounded by a sense of disappointing you.

On a practical level one of the best things you can do immediately is to give her some options. Even the sense of having a choice can make a huge difference in this sort of situation.

Don't expect to find out the root of the problem immediately or even ever but what you can do is give her a sense that she is safe and secure at home and doesn't need to resort to deception is she is scared to go to school.

Personally I would say that if your child really doesn't want to go to school they will benefit more from having your backing in solving whatever problem there is than just blindly forcing them to attend.

Possible Solutions

You could investigate whether there are any useful structured activities which which she is able to engage in, these might be sports, youth groups (like scouting) or art groups. It would also be worth investigating whether there are any charitable funds which could help support this sort of activity.

Obviously there are legal requirements for ensuring proper education but as there is clearly a problem with the normal process you need to try to engage with the system and find some solution. There may be some mechanism to at least help and if not you need to find a way to work around it. Here it is important that you stress that you are concerned about her welfare and definitely make the point that you feel that she is not getting adequate support in school and has clear mental health concerns.


I would just like to add to other answers that while changing school might not be a long term solution it might be a short term one allowing your family to bring the situation under control without damaging your financial situation.

Changing school has several consequences :

  • It might make your kid lose her current friends network

  • It might teach her that it's OK to run from problems and leaves her unprepared if the problem happens again

    • It leaves the bullies unaffected

But it will give all your family a breather and possibly salvaging your kid school year while starting a good therapy and dealing with the consequences.

This is not a full answer to your situation, but I felt you might benefit from this consideration.

  • 1
    a) If she isn't going to school she has no friends network to speak of. b) It is part of being an adult knowing when to walk away from a problem. It is a It is a useful skill to have.
    – user25217
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 9:51

I agree with everybody else that it sounds very serious. It's obvious you have been thinking about this for a long time, and that you are troubled.

I won't repeat what others have said, but here's one other suggestion: try to talk to some of her school friends, or to the parents of her friends. Maybe you can get more information on the locker issue and other goings on that way.


Though this has been answered I will tell you what worked for me as the teen when I was in high school, and what it was like for me.

I had a very rough time in High School. Not because of bullies or some such but because the entire system was more about grinding you down into conformity then educating you. I had been thought the same things, the same lessons, some times verbatim, in most subjects. It was like 8 hours of mind numbing tedium every day. When I did have a subject that I was interested in or excelled at the school either didn't offer it again, or wouldn't let you take it. And I don't just mean optional classes. I loved history, specifically European late medieval history. However that subject was no more then a week long in "World History". There was a "creative writing" class that I truly enjoyed, and I hate English as a subject, but it only lasted 9 weeks, then I was not allowed to take it again. All in all the class load was such that going to school was really just a horrid experience. A true internal fight between doing what was right (going to classes) and doing what I thought was better (skipping school and going to the public library).

What it created,in my mind, was a set of people (teachers and administrators) that I had to basically "put up with" while at the same time feeling like a moo cow being herded though a milking carousel.

From the outside, parents and other concerned adults thought it was a bulling problem, or that something "really wrong" had happened because by 10th grade you could not get me to go to school. You could drop me off, walk me into class, and the first chance I would get I would just leave. But I could not express why. If I said the classes were wrong or uninteresting, no one paid attention to that.

The fix, was for me to "drop out" of high school. My grandfather withdrew me from school. Did the whole, "Well if your not going to go I can't make you." route. Then proceeded to encourage and require that I follow my education outside school. If I wanted to lean about X then off it was to find someone that could teach about X.

After about a year of this kind of education, I was well informed in how to use resources outside of school to further my education. At the same time, I learned that the high school diploma wasn't as valuable as it had been made out to be, but that I probably still wanted one.

As the next school semester started, we approached the school district (this would have been the second half of 11th grade) and laid out the facts for them. I was a good learner, but I didn't do well if they couldn't offer anything to teach. Making me learn the same match skills 4 years in a row isn't going to work, but here I can do basic and complex math. It took some effort, but we convinced the school district (not any one school) to allow me to take night classes at my own pace to make up for the core classes I didn't have or had previously failed. This means I took classes from 9th, 10th, and 11th grade at night for a semester "passing" high school in about 18 weeks.

With the core classes out of the way, they wanted me to take a GED, just to make sure I was actually able to. So I did and got a perfect score. I did 12th grade in school, but with the oddest schedule anyone had ever seen. I requested 1 English class, cause I suck at it, and they required me to take several electives, because you can't take those at night.

I Graduated on time, when on to collage, blah blah blah, generally a success.

Now the reason why I tell you this really long story, is because your daughter may be in a similar situation. Not everyone is going to do so well with the conformity factory schools have become. Add in bullies, and the increasing amount of stress (in all my life I have never been so stressed as in High School), and you have a really emotionally negative situation for some kids. Essentially the entire system is working against them, and they don't know how to express that, because it is literally the entire system. TV shows, movies, media, ads, parents, friends, churches, doctors, literally every single person a teen looks up to is in on the system and pushing for the same goal. And there they are (the teen), just waning something, anything different.

Now you say your in the UK, so I don't know what you can do. But is there a way you can give your daughter a break? Can you withdraw her from school for a short while? Is there a way she can experience life out side of school? Can she direct her education on her own for a while? Is there any way you can provide her a break, a rest, or retreat from High School. Even for a year. Even if she falls behind. It could make all the difference in the world. Even if it's her changing body and hormones that have her tied in knots, a year from now, that will be in a totally different place.

A year, or even a semester, can make a huge difference, and it can give you time to rebuild any damage this has cause at home.

  • I really like this answer. I like the way you have explored more of what this girl is experiencing and you're very practical about how to deal with it. As I said in my own answer, she needs to be made to feel safe to express to her caregivers whatever the problem is so that it can be addressed appropriately. Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 23:30

This sounds like bullying to me. And, if your daughter thought you could be of much help, she would have told you about it already. So she believes that you can't (or won't) do anything about it, if you should learn the truth, and that her best strategy is absenteeism.

To get her to open up, you need to prove to her that you can and will make it stop. Either by changing schools, or getting the guilty party punished, etc. So decide first if you are going to commit to getting a solution. Because it sounds like the school is willing to come after you, if any faculty turns out to be somehow complicit. If that is too much heat for you, maybe you should flee not fight (ie change schools or even move away).

Keep in mind also, for girls bullying often takes a psychological form. Shaming, exclusion, submission tests, etc. The particular aversion to PE class is a good place to start looking. Also check her phone and social networks for abusive messages.

  • 4
    "check her phone and social networks for abusive messages" +1 Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 11:48

Simple: change the environment, ie, change school.

Analogy: if I go to work, and my boss is all the time criticising me, for outrageous reasons, which I did have one before, and there is nothing wrong with me - emotionally, ethically etc, I tender my resignation.

There after I had a much happier life: everyone is mutually respectful of one another, and not playing politics with one another (to a tolerable extent).

A child is often vulnerable and innocent, but some are not, due to individual parental upbringing. A child's fault, if there is any, is likely to arise from his parental upbringing as well. So other kids' behavior we can't change, but try changing the school or environment.

But beware: in a different school, you are likely to same problems happening again, so be prepared to devise alternative solutions for that.


To the already excellent answers on how to deal with your daughter, i would like to add that the school is totally failing her and your familly. Your child is in their care, she has serious problems at the school and all they can offer are threats? They cannot even be arsed to sort out the locker thing? Really?! They have to start understanding that this is a huge problem for your daughter, for you and also a risk for them as school. Their failure could lead to anything from sanctions from the authorities to bad press, so they really should start doing their job.

At the very least they should answer straightforward questions like who is using your daughters locker and who of the school staff has failed to act on this. This in turn may give you clues on what is really going on.

Getting them to cooperate in trying to find out what is happening may actually benefit your relationship with your child by showing her that you are on her side. When i was her age i had a tiny run in with the school, but my dad sorted it out and it still makes me smile:

There was a party and to avoid outsiders gatecrashing it, when a kid bought a ticket their name would be crossed off the list. An older girl bought a ticket in my name and also spread the rumour that i allowed this. The school said there was nothing they could do about it. When my dad went to school to sort it out he accidentally stumbeled into the principals office without knocking. The latter somehow misinterpreted this, got al defensive and apologised profusely while cautiously backing up. (My dad is a very nice an sociable guy, but sometimes a but clumsy). Needless to say, i got a ticket to go to the party.


Wow. This sounds so much like my daughter at 13. (She is now 22) I basically could not get her to middle school. I didn't know why for almost a year, a year in which I was subjected to school attendance review board hearing. (Particularly humiliating as I am a teacher . . . ) Turns out she had developed social phobia anxiety and panic disorder. However it was clearly a family problem that triggered it - (our situations differ in this respect) My then husband, her father, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, of which he passed away a few short months later. She also accidentally became privy to info. that he'd had an affair which produced a child. So it all was quite traumatic-more for her than her sisters as she is the oldest and knew him longer. She acted SO much like your daughter. I probably could have done more to help her had the school nurse not failed to tell me that she was going to the office feeling sick on an almost daily basis and just sitting in the nurse's office crying. Ultimately, I haven't been successful in any way; she is now an agoraphobic as well. Beautiful and intelligent and completely shut off from the world. My advice is to explore this possibility - the anxiety disorder- explore it fully and do whatever you can to get help for her. It is on the uprise among our teens - each year I have a couple more students (girls usually, a boy this year) who suffer with anxiety. Luckily, there is also more info. and treatment options, as well, I believe. Good luck.


TL;DR; You must make your daughter understand that you love her, you are on her side, she need not fear punishment from you, and you'll do anything to make this right for her.

I am so sorry to hear of your problem. I wish I could have stood at your side to hug you and dry your eyes. (Right now, I need to dry my own eyes to answer your question.) The pain you feel must be awful, but the alternative to feeling that pain is even worse. The alternative to feeling that pain is to be apathetic. The pain tells me that you love your daughter so much.

My child is not yet old enough for school, but I had a chance encounter with another father recently who had a son about your daughter's age with some sort of autistic spectrum disorder. This boy was having some issues at school, and his father's eventual solution was homeschooling. (not saying that's necessarily what your daughter needs) He admitted to me that as his son grew up, he insisted that he behave like other children, and he used punishment. He said that the day eventually came that he realized he was punishing his son for things he couldn't control, and it was a terribly painful realization. Good! The pain he feels reflects his love for his boy.

You present your daughter's school refusal as a problem to solve. The real problem is whatever is causing your daughter to refuse school.

To quote the well-known US paediatrician William Sears, "The child who feels right, acts right." Look at your daughter's behavior. You had to physically coerce her to go to school in a way that you obviously regret doing. Your daughter obviously feels very wrong about school. Your puzzle is to discover the reasons why.

There are 18 other answers as I write this, and the word "empathy" is completely absent from all of them. The word "love" appears only once, and the answer it appears in was downvoted.

I urge you, imagine yourself stepping into your daughter's shoes. Imagine yourself seeing the world thru her eyes. What does she see? What does she feel? Why?

I think that the other answers are on point to suggest that there could be some medical or psychological issue causing her to not get along well at school such as ASD, OCD, gender dysphoria, ADHD, or many others.

Maybe the problem is abuse by other children or even by the school staff. Please bear in mind that oftentimes, when a child suffers abuse, the child is manipulated by the abuser to feel that she deserves what happens to her, sometimes to the point of even denying that the abuse exists. The school's evasiveness and threatening you with jail do sound like a red flag.

Others here have suggested that she might open up to a doctor or therapist.

I don't know what sort of parenting style you use, but I do know that many, if not most parents use coercive punishments to try to shape their children's behavior. Especially if that describes your parenting, your daughter may fear making you angry and receiving punishment if she tells you what's really on her mind.

I can't claim to be an expert, but here's what I think I might say to my daughter in this circumstance. (I'm pretending that her name is "Sue")

"Sue, we have a serious issue, and Mommy and Daddy don't know what the problem is. You see, having to drag you to the school bus tore my heart all to pieces. I was crying for hours afterwards. Maybe you think that I don't love you anymore because I'm making you do something you hate so much.

But Sue, I love you dearly and want what's best for you. I need you to know, Sue, that Mommy and Daddy are on your side. We need you to tell us why you refuse to go to school. We promise to you that you are safe to tell us the truth, no matter what it is, even if you think that the truth will make us sad and angry. We promise not to hit you or punish you or try to make you feel ashamed. If there is some adult or other student at your school who is threatening you, we promise to protect you from them, even if we have to keep you home. If there is something you feel not right about, no matter how stupid you might expect us to think it is, we need you to tell us. We will try to see it thru your eyes.

Sue, we need you to talk to us about this because we can't help if you won't talk to us. We can tell that you are as unhappy with this as we are, and every day you refuse to talk to us about it is another day you have to live with it."

I'm going to go get a tissue now.


I don't see anything jumping out that says mental issues or bullying. The locker issue needs to be dealt with so she has her own (she probably voluntarily let a friend use it because she figured she doesn't plan on being there anyway). I find it disturbing that this many people jump to a disorder, medication, or bullying when usually the answer is more simple.

I see possibly a few factors going on here.

  1. The attendance issues may have started because you may not have jumped on it soon enough. Kids love pushing boundaries of what they can get away with.
  2. Because of the low attendance, she may feel embarrassed about being far behind, and possibly having grades suffer.

If this seems like it might be the issue, I'd work to get a private tutor to work with her at home (so that no one at school knows).

I'd also find some way to reward her for attendance and discipline her for not attending. Make the discipline consistent and matter of fact beforehand so she can see it's not out of anger when it does happen.


This is a slight elaboration of an earlier answer which was not perceived as an answer (thanks to Rory for pointing that out). I'll try to be more specific why I thought that my advice in fact is an answer. Not a solution, mind you, but surely an answer.

The OP reports an incident which hurts to read:

this morning I had to physically drag her from the house to the bus stop, with her trying to grab onto the door, the railings, the gate, and then refusing to get on the bus until I dragged her on with me. She was crying and screaming all the time.

I suppose this is what triggered the post because the parents do not know what to do:

Neither me nor my wife know how to help her with this stalemate.

Sensibly, they reach out for counsel. The post ends with

If anyone has any ideas we are clutching at straws.

This is a pretty broad request for comment. (As an aside, it is interesting that the post does not actually contain a question.) The last sentence is clearly an outreach for any information or idea which could help.

And I provided just one idea because I thought it is a crucial, fundamental principle:

Whatever you do, do not use physical violence.

The reason is that the mutual assurance (and hence, trust) to stay away from physical violence is the foundation for all healthy interpersonal relations. This is not only, but particularly true in a family. To inflict physical violence on another person is a transgression which alters the nature of the relationship to one which cannot be trusted. I do not think that a relationship of this nature is conducive to solving any problem which may underlie the undesirable behavior of the OP's daughter, which is the ultimate goal.

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