Phobic, fearful, or refusing? Exploring adult constructions of young people’s extended non-attendance and their impact on the young person’s lifeworld

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Matthew Baker
Submitted: June 2015


Extended non-attendance (‘school phobia’ or ‘school refusal’) involving apparent fear of school was first documented and differentiated from truancy in the early 1900s. Despite subsequent research, few effective remedies have been found, and little is known regarding the relative efficacy of the various interventions trialled to date. Further, although the extant literature identifies the importance of aligning adult understandings and listening to the young person’s voice, little previous research has focused on these areas. Hence, the current study begins with a literature review focused on exploring the relative efficacy of the various psychosocial interventions trialled to date. This concludes that intervention type is less important than other factors, such as working closely with the young person and adults involved, exploring the function of the young person’s non-attendance, and intervening early. The subsequent research chapter responds to gaps identified in the evidence base by the literature review, utilising a discursive approach to explore adult understandings (parents, teachers, etc) of extended non-attendance, and an interpretative phenomenological approach to explore young people’s experiences of being situated within these understandings. In both instances, data was gathered via semi-structured interview. Findings suggest that adult understandings vary and are sometimes incompatible, that affected young people feel more judged than supported, and that support can be very slow and difficult to access; they further question whether current practice is informed by the evidence base. A variety of suggestions for practitioners are discussed.

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