School refusal

Trude Havik has in her PhD looked at school refusal and school factors that might contribute to school refusal. She defended her thesis on the 20. of March 2015.


Prolonged and persistent school non-attendance might substantially hamper children’s and adolescents’ psychological, social and academic development. School non-attendance appears to be an increasing problem that has received greater attention recently.

Research-based knowledge of school factors that might contribute to school refusal (SR) is needed because the prior research has primarily focused on individual and family factors and small and clinical samples. In addition, the school non-attendance concepts that have been included in previous research are inconsistent, and the findings seem inaccessible.


The main aim of this study is to increase the knowledge and understanding of SR. The first research question assessed the different dimensions of the common reasons for school non-attendance and investigated the prevalence of these dimensions and the association between them and gender, grade and special educational needs. The second research question investigated whether SR and truancy should be viewed as distinct concepts. The third research question concerned the role of school factors in SR. This question examined students’ perceptions of their relationships with peers at school and teachers’ classroom management in relation to SR- and truancy-related reasons (SR and truancy reasons). In addition, this research question also investigated whether the findings differ between primary and secondary school students. Furthermore, parents’ experiences and perspectives concerning the role of school factors in SR were explored through interviews, providing more detailed information than a survey.


Quantitative and qualitative approaches were included. A questionnaire was conducted with a large sample of students, allowing complex analyses to answer the research questions. In addition, controls for relevant individual and parental factors were included in the second paper. Papers I and II were based on a cross-sectional studyand a self-reported questionnaire was used for data collection. A total of 5465 students from sixth to tenth grade participated in a web-based survey that was conducted at school. A total of 45 schools were recruited in seven municipalities of Norway. Students who reported being absent from school one day or more were included in further studies (N=3629). In addition, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 17 parents who had experienced SR with their own children. This approach provided a deeper understanding of the role of school factors in SR. The interviews were analyzed using thematic analyses.


The analyses in Paper I demonstrated the expected four dimensions of students’ self-reported reasons for school nonattendance. These reasons included somatic symptoms, subjective health complaints (SHC), school refusal (SR) and truancy. The findings of Papers I and II indicated that SR and truancy are different concepts. Of the students who reported being absent, 5.3% reported reasons related to SR and 5.6% related to truancy “quite often”, constituting 3.6.% and 4% of the total sample respectively. The reasons related to SR were reported slightly less often than those related to truancy. Moreover, SHC were the most frequently reported reasons, as they were reported “quite often” by 19.8% of absent students. The findings from the structural equation model with multivariate associations (SEM) indicated risk factors at school as reasons for SR, even when emotional stability and relevant parental factors were controlled. The findings suggested that relationships with peers at school are an important risk factor for SR and a moderate risk factor for truancy. Being a victim of bullying was strongly associated with SR among primary school students and moderately associated among secondary school students. Teachers’ classroom management was associated with SR and truancy reasons among secondary school students and was the strongest direct association with truancy reasons. Teachers appear to play a role in SR reasons indirectly through their work with peers among primary school students. Parents supported some of these findings and emphasized the importance of school factors in SR, for example, peers’ and teachers’ support, the need for predictability, noisy and disorganized classrooms, frightening teacher behavior, bullying and insufficient or late adaption to schoolwork. Several of the parents commented about the need for teachers and others to have greater knowledge as well as a more coordinated approach to SR students.


The findings indicated that SR and truancy are distinct concepts. This finding could be important for further research and the work of practitioners. In addition, risk or demanding factors at school are associated with SR reasons and moderately associated with truancy reasons. The findings indicated that SR develops independently of students’ emotional instability or relevant parental factors. This result might reflect the importance of investigating all of the possible reasons why some students find it difficult to attend school. Furthermore, the findings indicated that relationships with teachers and peers at school are associated with SR reasons. Moreover, bullying appeared to have the greatest importance among primary school refusers. The research findings also suggest that students, parents and schools should reflect upon the concepts of excused/unexcused school non-attendance and absence caused by SHC, as these are the most frequently reported reasons for absence. Bad habits related to school and school nonattendance might carry into a student’s future education and work life. School non-attendance is an individual and social problem, and this field requires more attention and research. The current study contributes to knowledge about the different reasons for school non-attendance in general and especially for the educational field regarding school factors that are related to SR.

Text: Trude Havik


List of papers

This study is based on the following papers:


Havik, T., Bru, E. & Ertesvåg, S.K. (2014 online) Assessing reasons for school non-attendance. In: Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research


Havik, T., Bru, E. & Ertesvåg, S.K. (resubmitted) School factors associated with school refusal- and truancy-related reasons for school non-attendance. In: Social Psychology of Education


Havik, T., Bru, E. & Ertesvåg, S.K. (2013 online) Parental perspectives of the role of school factors in school refusal. Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (Volume 19, Issue 2, 2014)

Trude Havik

Trude Havik