I then have to explain how my son developed school refusal AKA school phobia at the age of eleven. Inevitably the first response is generally something along the lines of, "Well, surely that was just naughtiness and he was trying it on? Why couldn't you just make him get on with it?"
The answer is very simple. School phobia is not petulance. It's crippling and very real, like only those who have had panic attacks can tell you.
As any parent who has ever dealt with this condition knows, when it first hits you have absolutely no idea what you're dealing with. In fact, you think the very things that others have asked. Is he playing up? Am I being too lenient? And in the beginning you try everything - punishment, bribes, coaxing, shouting, crying - you name it you give it a go. Then come the darker thoughts ... is he being bullied? Or even abused?
Once he was properly diagnosed, it was a question of baby steps - with me constantly in the background. First step to enter the form room, next a full class, a half day, a full day etc. This took the best part of three years and I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I could be there to support him. My heart goes out to those kids who never conquer the fear and, indeed, never return to school.
There's not enough talk about school phobia and certainly not the sort of support students get in Japan, which has the highest incidence in the world. We had to pay for a child psychologist but were lucky enough to have a fantastic counsellor on site at his school. Also the teaching staff were incredibly supportive and I could not fault the school's pastoral care.
As I write, my son has just returned from school having completed his penultimate GSCE and school phobia is a distant memory, almost as if it happened to another boy. He's looking forward to returning in September to do his A levels at a school he now loves.
So, a happy ending all round really - a son who conquered his fears and the birth of a book!
UPDATE - 21st February 2013. We have since featured in The Daily Mail on ITV's This Morning (blog and link to feature here) And have met fellow tweeters and bloggers who have struggled with their children and this very real condition. Donna Trinder and Ann Beck
The resulting novel is Diary of a Mummy Misfit - on Amazon for Kindle.
Now also available in paperback at Lulu.