My 17-year-old is refusing to return to school. What are our options?

My 17-year-old is refusing to return to school. What are our options?

I’m at my wits’ end. My son started back in fifth year in September but has completely disengaged with school. He reads the books, but won’t go to school. He’s 17 – above the legal age for compulsory school – so he can’t be forced to return. What are our options?

The fallout from Covid-19 has left many vulnerable young people feeling incapable of re-engaging with their pre-pandemic lives. Your son’s unwillingness to return to school is, as you outline in your email, causing the family deep distress.

To get the root of his issues, engaging with a professional counsellor would be a good start.

As you say, legally, he is no longer legally obliged to attend full-time education. As a result, support such as homeschooling will not be available for him.

He remains on the school’s roll books and his name will have been returned to the Department of Education in recent weeks as a current student at the college.

You have stated that you have had some success in getting your son to engage with the textbooks you purchased from the book lists provided by his school. Unfortunately, given the return to normal teaching practices, the possibility of him viewing his classes online is no longer an option.

All you can do is engage with whatever support you can muster and try and stop him withdrawing any further

However, his teachers have a responsibility to support his education as much as is practicable. So, if he is prepared to submit work to them, I am certain that they would correct it, and return it to him with some guidance as to how to proceed with home study.

The combination of therapeutic support and encouragement/engagement from his teachers, if provided, may help him in time to overcome his anxieties and gradually re-engage with his education.

Fears and anxieties

I have seen students return to schooling for as little as a class or two a day initially, as a way of gradually overcoming their fears and anxieties.

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