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Looking back at our school life we can remember particular moments in which we played sick or tried to find excuses to stay at home; but these weren’t considered as problematic. School attendance problems occur when the student reaches a certain frequency of not excused non-attendance. According to Kearney, absenteeism on a temporary basis is normal; but consistent absenteeism with frequent misbehaviors or school anxiety is considered problematic. After determining it problematic, second stage is the differentiation of motivation (parent/child-motivated absenteeism). The focus of this report will be school refusal ,a type of child-motivated absenteeism (non-attendance due to the child).
School refusal (SR) can be defined as lack of attendance to school, secondarily due to psychological symptoms without a mental cause or possible negative emotional expectations at school. “It is referred as anxiety-related absenteeism usually due to separation, general or social anxiety”. According to Berg and colleagues, refusal of attendance should be leading to longer absenteeism problems, the child should be staying at home, his/her emotional distress should be leading to behavioral outcomes (not highly antisocial behaviors) and parents should be insistent about child’s attendance until a point to be considered as SR. There is no formal diagnostic of school refusal in DSM but it is observed that refusers usually have other internalized disorder diagnoses. Significant association with performance anxiety, school related fears, anxiety disorders and SR was found with depression and separation anxiety as most common secondary diagnoses.
Follow-up studies mentioned in Heyne & Sauter (2013) indicates that SR might be a threat for children’s social, academic and emotional development, and increase the risk for present and future mental problems while highlighting possible outcomes of non-attentive school refusal problems in children. Therefore, investigating factors involved in the development and maintenance of SR is valuable to determine possible effective treatments, minimizing loss of skills learned at school while maximizing the quality and adaptation for future developmental challenges, indicating possible problematic behaviors to the parents, helping to take precautions before the onset and pointing out situations to seeks assistance.
School based factors such as classroom management and social context are indicated as independent variables on school attendance investigation in Havik and colleagues’ study. Teachers’ classroom management including student-student interaction and teacher-student support is argued to have huge impact on student’s well-being; while the impact of organization and classroom structure on attendance rates haven’t been assessed in previous studies. According those results, good classroom management can promote good peer relationships and decrease bullying which would indirectly influence SR. With the prevention of possible negative experiences at school and promotion of positive peer relationships, good classroom management might promote school attendance. Predictability and classroom order might be other promoters for positive school attendance. It is found that there might even be a direct relationship between supportive teacher-student relationships and decreased perceived stress/negative emotions by the student. Some contextual (community/sociocultural) examples influencing classroom management and in result the attendance rate of students might be school influences, neighborhood or socioeconomic status of the individual. District resources, education and teacher quality, academical policy, classroom climate, attendance regulations, track divisions and size of a school can all influence teacher’s classroom management and which in turn influences the attendance rates. Size of the school might influence the classroom climate (social contact) and relationship dynamics since it is harder to build quality relationship and support with increased classroom size.
Excessive increase in the academical load (especially from primary to middle school) might increase pressure or negative relationship perception of the student with the teacher, while decreasing trust, resulting in increased pressure on teacher to improve both student-teacher and student-student support for good classroom management. Neighborhood of the student might also have excessive influence ,especially with education policies including district restrictions. It might affect children’s rate of interaction with deviant peers, availability of illegal substances, harsh parenting, violence, and the having such peers in the classroom in a low quality school with low attendance monitoring/regulations. The possibility of having extremely crowded classrooms with little teacher-student interaction, higher bullying rates and harder classroom control might increase teacher’s pressure while decreasing his/her control on classroom dynamics and academical requirement fulfillment rate.
Children growing up in a family with low socioeconomic status (SES) will face more difficulties than children with better SES while adjusting to the diverse school environment. They might have problems providing learning resources (books, appropriate tools), affording uniforms, etc. which would create a visible difference in classroom environment possibly affecting bullying rate, peer interaction and social contact which would require increased teacher-student support and better classroom management to maintain student’s well- being and positive perception on school.
Havik and colleagues assess some control variables and have some solid findings, but as most of all others their study still has some strengths and limitations. Some examples of strength would be its large sample size (5465), different context and good measurement use (big city, town, rural area). This way, the study increased variability and provided a broader perspective by not restricting itself to a certain neighborhood.
Also, the use of similar gender variance (%50 male, %49 female) helped the study avoid possible gender related biases. On the other hand some limitations would be, use self-report questionnaire use in the sense of openness and possible biases, restrictive culture use (Norwegian students), lack of additional control variables (background, neighborhood, SES) and suggested causality direction. Aside from the strengths and limitations, study also has some in between characteristics like the scale. Even though used scales might be considered as a strength since exhaustive (no yes/no questions (except for one) wider answer possibilities promoting more accurate results, it might be a limitation since making mindful differentiations between the choices (e.g. seldom vs. sometimes) can be hard.
The provided findings imply a risk for non-attendance but are not direct indicators suggesting certainty of contribution/causality, so it is hard to say they can be trusted for sure. Further longitudinal studies and improved findings needed for confirmation. It might also be helpful to assess students with good attendance rates and the differences between the problematic and non-problematic students.
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