MEDIA RELEASE: Inquiry into school refusal reveals an absence of detailed research and data

The Senate Education and Employment References Committee released its report on ‘the national trend of school refusal and related matters’ today.

“At the outset, I want to thank everyone who participated in this inquiry, especially those brave parents and families who shared their personal experiences of school refusal with us,” said Chair of the References Committee, Senator Matt O’Sullivan.

Notwithstanding the personal experiences brought before the committee, the report’s main findings highlighted a lack of data and gaps in the research, with no nationally agreed upon definition of school refusal.

“The report’s findings demonstrated a pressing need to kickstart research into school refusal,” said Senator O’Sullivan.

Some submissions to the inquiry suggested COVID-19-related disruptions to education seem to have exacerbated the issue of school refusal for many students.  For many their non-attendance through COVID times has carried through and not recovered.

“We must be able to define a problem first before we can work on systemic solutions. Research into school refusal is recommended by the committee to develop a nationally agreed definition on ‘school refusal’.”

“Once a nationally agreed definition of ‘school refusal’ has been established, the next steps towards early identification of school refusal and evidence-based interventions can be taken. This includes better data collection to track students who are experiencing school refusal, as we don’t want students falling through the cracks and missing out on their schooling,” said Senator O’Sullivan.

The report recommended that Education Ministers task the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) with undertaking further research into school refusal.

“The committee received many submissions on the social, emotional and mental health impacts of school refusal on students and their families, but there was a lack of concrete data on the impact that it has on their education attainment levels.”

“We can infer that if a student isn’t able to attend school and is missing out on lessons, their learning would be affected. Families and students need to have access to evidence-based solutions to ensure that they are not missing out on a proper education,” Senator O’Sullivan said.

“School attendance is key to a child’s learning and development. If they are unable to attend school, for any reason, there should be alternative pathways made available for them to find a method of schooling that works for them, whether that is through online or virtual learning, or another solution. It is important that parents have the necessary information to make informed choices.”