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All children are entitled to an education – but children suffering from medical conditions can often be overlooked.

Many children experience debilitating illnesses that allow them to attend school, but find it difficult to participate fully in classroom activities such as excursions. Over one million children suffer from long term medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease, cancer, Type 1 diabetes, stroke, celiac disease and anaphylaxis.

The Health Conditions in Schools Alliance has pointed out that there have been many examples where children with health needs are prevented from achieving their full educational potential as a result of ill health, bullying and stigma at school.

Their medical conditions can result in discrimination in relation to school trips and extra-curricular activities. In addition, schools can fail to support the social and emotional implications associated with a pupil’s medical condition.

This situation has now been recognised by the Department for Education, which has issued revised guidelines that come into force from September 2014.

The guidelines point out that “Parents of children with medical conditions are often concerned that their child’s health will deteriorate when they attend school. It is therefore important that parents feel confident that schools will provide effective support for their child’s medical condition and that pupils feel safe.”

The Children and Families Act 2014 requires governing bodies of pupil referral units, schools and academies to ensure that suitable arrangements exist to cater for the special educational needs of children with medical conditions. It will be a legal requirement.

The revised Department of Education guidelines require educational establishments to create a clear medical conditions policy which will ensure that all pupils with any form of medical conditions are given full access to education, including school trips and physical education lessons.

The policy has to be reviewed regularly by governing bodies, and must be easily accessible to parents and staff. All schools will have to have a defibrillator on the premises, and staff trained to use it.

School staff must receive suitable training applicable to any medical conditions experienced by pupils. In addition, governing bodies are required to consult health and social care professionals, pupils and parents to ensure that all children’s needs are effectively supported.

While the guidelines have been welcomed by medical charities such as Diabetes UK, Asthma UK, CLIC Sargent; educational organisations have pointed out that schools may face problems given the timescale.

Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers commented “We foresee three main logistical issues with the guidance, the foremost being the timescale of implementation in the context of the raft of other changes schools are obliged to implement.

Staff will need to be trained to cope with particular conditions and heads will now need to ensure that the required individual pupil healthcare plans for those children with medical needs are in place.”

Schools will need to start looking immediately at ways of implementing these new guidelines. The governing body of the educational establishment has to develop a clear medical conditions policy and make this readily available.

All pupils with medical conditions must be identified and an assessment of their needs undertaken. For example children with asthma must be given access to their own inhalers.

Charities such as Coeliac UK and CLIC Sargent have indicated that they are prepared to work with schools to provide advice and support in creating medical conditions policies; as well as training where necessary.

The issue of staff training is likely to be one of the most difficult elements when implementing the new guidelines as Russell Hobby points out. “School leaders may be faced with a situation where none of their staff volunteer for the extra medical responsibility when it comes to the invasive administration of medicines.

The guidance relies heavily on governors writing policies and on free access to the school nursing service: however, feedback from our members suggests that there are regional variations in availability of support from the school nursing service.”

Not every school has a nurse on the premises every day. All too often, the school nurse service involves one nurse dealing with several schools. When a problem occurs, the school staff have to provide the immediate medical help that may be required.

Not every school has a nurse on the premises every day. All too often, the school nurse service involves one nurse dealing with several schools. When a problem occurs, the school staff have to provide the immediate medical help that may be required.

Ensuring as many staff as possible have a first aid qualification is not enough when it comes to the needs of children with special medical conditions – staff will be required to provide the assistance those children need.

Contacting appropriate medical charities for advice will clearly be a priority for governing bodies and head teachers so as to meet the statutory guidelines catering for the pupils in their care.

The message is clear – schools must review their procedures and training now so as to ensure that a medical conditions policy is ready for the new term. There is not much time left.