A million children with serious medical conditions put at risk by schools

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The lives of one million children with chronic medical conditions are being put in jeopardy because schools don’t know what to do in an emergency, warns a body of child health organisations.

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The Health Conditions in School Alliance warns that children with serious health conditions, such as asthma, are being put at risk by schools' lack of knowledge and policies

According to information obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the Health Conditions in School Alliance, alongside investigations by Diabetes UK, nine in ten schools in England are not able to show they have medical conditions policies in place.

This is despite the body successfully campaigning in 2014 to amend the Children and Families Act to include a duty on schools in England to support children with long-term medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma and epilepsy.

The Health Conditions in School Alliance, which is made up of more than 30 organisations and supports over one million children, says that schools are either not aware of the law or do not understand what it means for them in practice.

On top of this, data from the Diabetes UK Care in School Helpline, which provides rights-based information and support to parents of children with the condition on the care they should be receiving at school, shows that the number of cases they have dealt with has not dropped since the law was passed, remaining steady at more than 200 a year.

Child health organisations are calling on the minister for children and families Robert Goodwill to take action to ensure all schools know that they are legally required to have medical conditions policies, and to publish these policies on their websites. They also want the minister to ask Ofsted to look at these policies and their implementation during school inspections.

Their call coincides with a lobby day being hosted by the organisations in Parliament today (23 October) attended by over 100 parents and children with serious conditions. As part of the event, this afternoon they will hand in a petition with nearly 50,000 signatures to the Department for Education, urging it to take action. The petition was started by parent Louise Fye-Taylor whose child who has diabetes suffered from a lack of support in school.

Danny Beales from the Health Conditions in School Alliance said, ‘The lack of support for children with medical conditions poses a serious threat to their health, and can even put their lives at risk. What’s more, it denies the one million children in the UK with long-term health conditions the same access to education as other children in their class. This can have a profound impact on their educational attainment and personal development. Every child deserves the same chance to succeed.

‘This can also have a troubling effect on parents, who we know are still being forced to fight to secure these basic, legally-protected rights for their children. Some going as far as giving up their jobs to look after them in school.

‘Getting this right will help children with long-term medical conditions thrive in school, and could save lives.’

Emma Williams, mum to seven-year-old Oliver, who has Type 1 diabetes and coeliac disease, who took her son’s school to court over their refusal to allow him to attend after-school clubs, said, ‘Parents should not have to fight for what they are legally entitled to. More needs to be done to not only ensure every school has statutory policies in place, such as supporting pupils at school with medical conditions, but also that schools are adhering to them. The Government has the power to make a difference and ensure all children are supported and kept safe in school. That shouldn't be too much to ask.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said, 'Keeping children and staff safe is a top priority. All schools must have a health and safety policy in place which the headteacher is responsible for implementing and the trust or council must ensure that a risk assessment and safety measures are in place to minimise all known risk.

'We know how important it is that children with medical conditions are supported to enjoy a full education. That is why we introduced new requirements for schools to support pupils with medical conditions and provided guidance on this issue. We will continue to work with the Health Conditions in Schools Alliance and other organisations to raise awareness of the duty, to help ensure all children get the support they need in school.'

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