School phobia: In search of a syndrome

Conn, William John Thomas (1988). School phobia: In search of a syndrome. PhD thesis The Open University.



This study is concerned with children's anxiety regarding school attendance of which school phobia is the most extreme form.

A literature cull identified features believed to typify the school phobics pattern of anxiety and these were included in a battery of instruments administered to a random sample of 225 boys and 261 girls between the ages of 11 and 16 years. This battery was also administered to a sample of 30 clinically defined school phobic boys and 19 school phobic girls.

Four groups, validated by a series of Discriminant Function Analyses, emerged in this study. These groups are taken to represent a continuum of anxiety relating to school attendance from severe to anxiety free. Evidence is adduced for the need to evaluate boys and girls data separately.

The groups were found to differ for both boys and girls in terms of age and ability but not social class or the number of other fears experienced though slight differences in the nature of fears emerged. Overall the girls groups more commonly reported fears.

Difficulties with friendships emerged as highly significant. However there were sex differences in the importance of the age and sex of friends variables and in whether the friends come from the childs own school.

Differences also emerged on a specially created Vulnerability in School measure but not on a General Satisfaction with School scale.

Sociometric data reliably discriminates among the groups for both boys and girls though generally did not appear to have an impact on favoured spare time activity.

The school avoidance strategy of pretending to be sick did not prove to be significant though recourse to truancy did - especially among the boys.

Additionally, significantly more sleep and nighttime problems are revealed among the more anxious groups for both boys and girls.

The significance of these and associated other findings are analysed and a tentative model of the anxious childs' situation in terms of theories of Stress and Gaping nominated as furnishing a possible synthesis.

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