School attendance figures in England reveal more children with an EHC plan are out of school

5 mins read

Thursday 27 June 2024

Tags: school absence, school attendance, special educational needs, disability

New figures from the government show that the number of children in England with an Education, Health and Care plan being educated at home has risen by 34% in the last year and now stands at 5770.

The figures also show that more than 17,000 disabled young people are Not in Education or Training (NEET).

Unmet need

Imogen Steele, Education Policy lead at Contact, said: “Attendance concerns for parents with disabled children, are not new, but the number of families affected and their experiences with school have worsened.

“Children with disabilities and health conditions have historically had more absences for many reasons including: health, lack of support in school, waiting for a suitable school place, delays in EHC assessments, and issuing EHC plans, as well as higher rates of exclusion. But Contact’s helpline has found that most recently attendance issues arise due to unmet need.”

Contact has advice and information on school absence for parent carers in England, on our dedicated webpages about absence from school.

Imogen Steele added: “Coupled with this, the government’s drive to boost attendance has led to parents in England being penalised for their child’s genuine medical absence.”

Family experiences of attendance issues

In response to the government drive to improve school attendance, many families shared their stories with Contact. They hope to raise awareness of the many reasons children with disabilities and health conditions might struggle to attend school. Here are two of those stories.


Amber is nine. Over the last few years she has struggled to attend school. 

Amber always enjoyed school, but her demeanour changed in lockdown. When school reopened, she struggled to reintegrate, and she found wearing certain clothes and shoes unbearable leading to meltdowns.

Amber masks really well. She is well-behaved and doesn’t present as challenging or obstructive in school. As a result, her anxieties have been dismissed or trivialised. In almost every interaction, school say “she’s fine” and don’t follow through with plans and promises, so they’ve lost her trust.

Her attendance is getting worse along with her frustration and her mental health. It’s a daily struggle, which has had a detrimental effect on my mental health. It’s so frustrating that the view of parents are overlooked and underestimated.

Because of the inconsistencies between alleged support and what is actually provided, I’ve applied for an EHCP, I successfully won the appeal for LA to assess, which they’ve done and concluded she doesn’t need a plan. I’m now in the middle of an appeal for that.

It feels as though Amber is very misjudged and misunderstood. Sadly this seems to be escalating her trauma and dislike for school. But as a parent I feel like I need to prioritise her wellbeing.

Charlie (not real name)

Charlie associates school with being scared…not just scared, terrified! It was too busy, too much noise, different smells, constantly feeling sick and dizzy, having to sit still, not understanding things, rules, behaviour charts that scared him, having to do things a certain way, feeling out of control and just constant fear. Then once he got home, extreme exhaustion. 

He should now be coming to the end of Year 3. But he hasn’t attended school for over two years.

At the start of Year 1 he managed just one term. As soon as the formal lessons commenced after the October half term, things went rapidly downhill. He then did a few weeks of going in for 15-30 mins a day and various attempts to get him to ‘bond’ with the TA in the Year One class. But to no avail. My son didn’t want to be there and the mornings yet again became impossible. Crying, screaming, running, hiding, hitting, spitting, begging, vomiting. For hours. Sometimes starting very early in the morning, sometimes in the middle of the night and sometimes at bedtime the night before. 

My son would say he wanted to die and would say ‘why are you doing this to me, don’t you love me’? My heart breaks when I think back to those times when I carried him into school kicking and screaming.

We tried hard to keep a good relationship with school, but it was frustrating. We felt judged and not believed. I was offered parenting courses. Threatened with fines and of off-rolling.

Two years on I wish I could say things were better but we are not much further forward. My son was allocated a place at a specialist school, but apart from a few sessions he has been unable to attend. He has trauma from his experience in the mainstream school and he cannot get past the overwhelming fear of school and learning. We are now trying to get him an out of school package of education (EOTAS) but this is not proving easy and even with an EHCP in place and diagnoses and a handful of professionals backing us, it’s still proving near impossible to get the support he needs. The battle never ends and I wish instead of constantly battling for support I could devote my energy fully on my son.