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Prompt help eases phobia

As the head of an off-site school phobic unit for 13 years and a member of an emotional and behavioural difficulties support team, I have worked with school- phobic children of both primary and secondary age.

My response to "Phobic pupils suffer alone" (TES, September 15), is that it is very important from the outset to establish that the aim is a rapid return to school. With support from school and family this can be achieved.

If a child is still attending school, strategies to maintain attendance, which may be part-time, should be devised. If attendance has completely broken down a planned programme away from the home is essential. This should include meeting regularly with groups of pupils experiencing similar difficulties for academic and social activities.

I have found attendance at primary schools in a "helping" capacity with younger children beneficial in restoring confidence; in establishing that the young person can cope and relax in a school environment; and in raising self-esteem.

I believe strongly that home tuition exacerbates the problem and it is not provided by the local education authority for this group, although occasionally some additional individual tuition may be authorised which takes place out of the home.

Reassurance that school phobia is not an illness and confidence that the anxiety can be alleviated is the most effective approach and has resulted in the successful return of many children to school.

School phobia is a complex problem which may be helped by counselling or support from a family psychiatric department, but this approach should be combined with early intervention from the education department by a person with experience and skills in working with such young people.

PAULINE HODGES

74 Cranbrook Road

Redland, Bristol

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