Growing calls for government action to address school refusal

Growing calls for government action to address school refusal

In Australia, school refusal impacts between 1% and 5% of all students, but has increased since the Covid-19 pandemic, reflecting a broader decline in school attendance over recent years. In 2022, the overall student attendance rate for Years 1–10 was 86.5%, a significant decrease from the 90.9% recorded in 2021​​.

A national Lonergan poll commissioned by the Greens has found that two in five families experienced what advocates prefer to call “school can’t” in the last 12 months.

To address this growing issue, the Greens launched a Senate inquiry in 2022, and in August last year, the final report was publicly released, making 14 recommendations that included an expansion of subsidised student mental health visits and a fully funded parent peer support network.

However, the Federal Government has agreed or supported in principle to just two of the 14 recommendations in the report, and the Greens are now calling on the Education Ministers Meeting to put action on school refusal at the top of its agenda, saying Labor “squibbed” its response to a Senate report into the crisis.

“Parents, carers and advocates have been crying out for help and action on school can’t for years, but those cries have fallen on deaf ears,” Greens spokesperson on Primary & Secondary Education, Senator Penny Allman-Payne said.

“This is a national issue that requires a national response and Labor has thrown it in the too-hard basket.”

Allman-Payne said the inquiry’s report recommended a range of very basic measures to begin to address this issue, and provide much-needed assistance to families in crisis – including developing a national action plan and providing funding for a peer support group.

“But Labor’s response will leave those families without much hope,” she said. “School can’t is a crisis of exclusion. Students are being forced out of rigid, commodified and under-resourced educational systems that are not fit to meet their complex needs.”

Allman-Payne said families experiencing school can’t aren’t able to access appropriate support for their children or themselves, adding that their physical health, mental health and financial well-being suffer as a result.

“The next Education Ministers Meeting must put this issue squarely at the top of the agenda.”

Tiffany Westphal, a board member of School Can’t Australia Ltd and one of the co-ordinators of School Can’t Australia’s parent peer support group, said the failure to prioritise immediate funding for School Can't Australia Ltd, leaves families unsupported, children and young people at risk, and volunteers “under considerable pressure”. 

“We are a not-for-profit organisation. We require funding to cover operational expenses and to create educational resources. We have resorted to crowdfunding, while we wait for a formal funding agreement from the government,” Westphal said.

“In my role as a social worker it is not unusual for students to identify between 30 – 50 stressors impacting them at school. When you look at their distress about school through a stress lens you realise that these students are just surviving.  There are real reasons why they are not thriving at school”.