Schools issued guidance ahead of legal duty to support children suffering ill-health

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Schools have been sent new Government guidance on how to manage long-term and complex medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and cancer, in advance of a new duty in the Children and Families Act.

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Diabetes UK says around 35,000 children have the condition

From September, schools in England will be legally required to provide support for children with medical conditions. It is the first time that schools will be required by law to provide this support, following a campaign by the Health Conditions in Schools Alliance, led by charities including the British Heart Foundation, Asthma UK, CLIC Sargent, the Stroke Association and Diabetes UK.

Between them the charities represent more than a million children with health needs.

They called for legal protection because, under the current system, there have been too many cases where children with health needs were prevented from doing well at school or missed out on school activities or trips, due to poor health, bullying and stigma.

The governing bodies of all maintained schools and academies in England will have a statutory duty to provide:

  • a medical conditions policy
  • an individual healthcare plan written for the child
  • appropriate training for school staff
  • and parents, school staff and the child's relevant healthcare professional, such as Paediatric Diabetes Specialist Nurse, must work together so the child receives the individualised care they need.

The Health Conditions in Schools Alliance is urging schools to implement the guidance and work with parents, local authorities and health services to help ensure children with medical conditions can get the high-quality support they need at school.

More than a million children suffer from long-term health conditions - for example, according to Asthma UK, two children in every classroom will have been diagnosed with asthma, and the Anaphylaxis Campaign claims that as many as one in 50 children may be allergic to nuts.

According to Diabetes UK, around 35,000 children are diagnosed with diabetes and, of these, the vast majority - 33,600 - are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes with no known cause; it usually affects children and young adults. In most cases, type 1 diabetes is thought to be an autoimmune disease; the body stops making insulin and the blood sugar (glucose) level becomes very high.

Treatment to control the blood glucose level is with insulin injections and a healthy diet.

Libby Dowling, clinical adviser for Diabetes UK, and a paediatric nurse specialist who helped to develop the guidance, said that previously the only protection for children with medical conditions was in anti-discrimination legislation.

Although diabetes is usually diagnosed in children aged ten to 14, Ms Dowling said there has been a steep rise in diabetes in the under-fives in recent years, but the reason it is triggered in some children and not others remains unknown.

Although the good practice guidance is not statutory for early years settings, she said, 'If you're looking for best care for children, it is a useful document for practitioners to refer to.'

She added, 'In terms of children with diabetes, it is absolutely vital that diabetes is managed as well at school as it is at home.

'Diabetes is a lifelong condition and it fluctuates, and glucose levels that are high or low can make children very unwell.

'In type 1 diabetes, you need to keep blood glucose at the target level. Children whose diabetes is not well-managed don't do as well academically and are not given the opportunity to perform as they could.'

Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said, 'Life can be tough for children living with heart conditions, a reality which schools have not necessarily appreciated.

'That daily challenge can impact a child's chance of succeeding in school and isolate them from their peers. This guidance will ensure that schools have to devise plans to give children with heart conditions the support they need to thrive.'

  • The Government guidance, Supporting pupils at school with medical conditions, can be found at www.gov.uk.