School Can’t

A recent 4 Corners documentary illustrated the difficulties of School Can’t with clarity. If you didn’t get to see it, you can catch it at

ACARA attendance data indicates a more complex problem in attendance levels. This measure indicates the proportion of students that attend more than 90% of the time and highlights students who may be at risk of chronic absenteeism.  In 2022 it fell to 49.9% down from down from 71.2% in 2021 and has rebounded to 61.6% for the year 2023. Where chronic absenteeism is identified at ≥10% in the international literature, Australia’s data

Australian School Attendance Rates: measuring the percentage of days a student attended, compared to days enrolled
Government91.9%90.7%No Data90.0%85.6%87.5%
Catholic93.9%92.4%No Data92.3%87.9%90.3%
Independent94.3%93.1%No Data93.0%88.8%91.2%
All non-gov94.1%92.7%No Data92.7%88.3%90.7%
All92.7%91.4No Data90.9%86.5%88.6%

Source: ACARA, National Student Attendance Data Collection.

Australian School Attendance Levels: indicates the proportion of students that attend more than 90% of the time
GovernmentNo Data71.1%No Data68.0%48.2%58.6%
CatholicNo Data75.7%No Data76.0%50.5%65.2%
IndependentNo Data79.2%No Data79.2%55.6%69.6%
All non-govNo Data77.3%No Data77.4%52.9%67.3%
AllNo Data73.1No Data71.2%49.9%61.1%

Source: ACARA, National Student Attendance Data Collection.

With a senate enquiry in 2023 investigating the problem, it is clear that current disciplinary methods are having very little impact on some students capacity to cope with the stress and anxiety that the school environment. Researching the intersection between neurodivergence and school attendance problems, the data suggests the unmet sensory needs and the differences in the way some students experience their learning environment sets off alarm bells leading to a fight of flight response and reduced window of tolerance.

The link between school refusal and neurodivergence is complex and one that is represented by a lack of inclusion and flexibility in the educational environment across Australia (Totsika et al., 2023).  Research demonstrated lockdowns in Melbourne, Australia, have exacerbated school refusal in the neurodivergent population (Kouroupa et al., 2023). Echoed around the globe during the pandemic, it appears that lockdowns increased school refusal numbers and the unmet needs of neurodivergent students in the school environment (Connolly et al., 2023).

Senate inquiry into the national trend of school refusal

The senate inquiry into school refusal on October 27, 2022, investigated the increasing national trend of “School Can’t” identified different to school truancy in primary and secondary schools, since the Covid-19 pandemic, also encompassing the effects on parents, carers and grandparents, economic and employment related difficulties (Australian Senate Education & Employment References Committee, 2023). It found that students and their parents are best to advocates for their lived experience and education system inflexibility requires change to be more inclusive and adaptive. The lack of support from the National Disability and Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the disproportionate number of neurodivergent students who are affected by school refusal requires further investigation into future funding for support for advocacy groups. With numbers as high as one in three students reported school refusal in the past 12 months, the recognition of a growing problem needs a different approach to the disciplined approach of the past. Anxiety and stress are often what lies beneath school refusal for the neurodiverse community and the issue is much more complex than previously thought given that trend has been rising over the past 10 years (Clark, 2023).

More information on school stress will be added to the is page over the coming month about the research project. Check back again soon for updates!

For now, if you’re a science article nerd like me feel free to read:


Australian Senate Education & Employment References Committee. (2023). The national trend of school refusal and related matters. Retrieved November 12, 2023 from

Australian Senate Community Affairs References Committee. (2023). Assessment and support services for people with ADHD Retrieved November 12, 2023 from

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