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EBSA, attendance and part-time timetables

Updated: Apr 19

Last week, I was sent a message raising a concern from parents of children with EBSA (Emotionally Based School Avoidance - also known as EBSNA - Emotionally Based School Non-Attendance) along the following lines....


"If your child is on a reduced timetable due to EBSA, any absences above this due to EBSA will result in an unauthorised absence, and hence fines etc...."


This is causing considerable concern so I thought that it was worth working out what is going on here by pulling together the relevant published guidance.


Firstly, this is based around the guidance on reduced timetables. The DfE guidance is https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/working-together-to-improve-school-attendance and there are 2 documents - one that has effect currently and one that takes effect from 19 August this year


The current guidance says, on page 57:


In very exceptional circumstances, where it is in a pupil’s best interests, there may be a need for a temporary part-time timetable to meet their individual needs. For example, where a medical condition prevents a pupil from attending full-time education and a part-time timetable is considered as part of a re-integration package.


The new guidance clarifies the working of a part-time timetable. It should...


  • Have the agreement of both the school and the parent the pupil normally lives with.

  • Have a clear ambition and be part of the pupil’s wider support, health care or reintegration plan.

  • Have regular review dates which include the pupil and their parents to ensure it is only in place for the shortest time necessary.

  • Have a proposed end date that takes into account the circumstances of the pupil, after which the pupil is expected to attend full-time, either at school or alternative provision. It can, however, be extended as part of the regular review process. In some limited cases, a pupil with a long-term health condition may require a part-time timetable for a prolonged period.


So the question is - how does this interact with the published guidance on EBSA? I live in Lancashire so I refer to the Lancashire County Council's (LCC) published guidance on EBSA along with the relevant guidance documents from the DfE

Two of the identified aspects of best practice are, as quoted in the LCC document,


  • Flexible, individualised approach: bespoke interventions should be linked to identified function(s) & needs. Common supportive measures include: a key adult for regular contact/check-ins; flexible timetable; a safe place in school; peer support/ buddying; arrangements for transport; sending work home if needed.

  • Gradual, stepped plan: a rapid return to school should be planned at the earliest opportunity alongside good support and adaptations within the school environment. NB: It is essential that this plan should be gradual and based on incremental, small steps, taking parent/carer and pupil views into consideration. Beware attempting ‘too much, too soon’ as this can cause setbacks for the pupil in the reintegration plan.

The strong emphasis in all this guidance (DfE and LCC) is on flexibility and, given the nature of EBSA, it is to be expected that on a part-time timetable students may have additional absences due to their condition. Should these be recurring then it would indicate the need to review the plan in line with best practice and the part-time timetable guidance.


Coding the additional absence as unauthorised, whilst technically at the discretion of the headteacher, would be against the clear emphasis of all the guidance referenced here. It is also highly likely to be in breach of the SEND Code of Practice and the Equality Act 2010 as it is very likely to fall into the category of disability discrimination. IPSEA (https://www.ipsea.org.uk/) are a very good source of advice on these legal matters related to SEND.


Any subsequent review of the plan should then include a clear request to recode the absences as clearly they are a result of an inaccurate initial plan....


It is also important to note that, even if the headteacher does decide to record the additional absences as unauthorised the DfE guidance makes it very clear that punitive and legal actions against families who are working with the school would be inappropriate. Best practice guidance is clear that, in the case of EBSA the "use of punitive and legal actions against non-attendance have been noted as a barrier to effective intervention."


Please feel free to use this in any discussions that you have with schools around EBSA and attendance and please feel free to get in touch if you would like to discuss these matters further.


Best wishes


James Harris


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