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Supporting Children with Medical
and Mental Health Needs at School

 

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School attendance. It is on everyone’s mind. National press, professional networks and social media are full of reports, policy statements and opinion pieces.
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The headlines shout about a huge rise in persistent absence, some reports talk about a breakdown in the social contract, that is, parents and carers are no longer buying into the value of school and education. But is all the noise and hype about increased fines, draconian school behaviour policies and general feelings of mistrust around school absence really helping? Do we even have an objective view of what is happening with school attendance?

It is often hard to get a clear picture when reality is nuanced and encapsulates a range of situations. And without a real understanding of both the big picture and the details we may create an even bigger issue.

We know that children and young people miss school for assorted reasons and that missing school directly affects outcomes as well as a sense of school belonging. So, it makes sense to try and ensure that attendance at school is as good as it can be for each individual student. The point here is that the reasons for missing school are varied, so the means of supporting attendance will need to be varied too.

For children and young people living with a chronic or acute health problem, missing school is likely to be a part of life. Doctor and hospital appointments, inpatient stays, recouperation at home, a time-consuming treatment regime, infection control isolation, worry and anxiety ...... the list goes on. What is often not considered in the conversations around attendance is how it feels when you have little or no control over your ability to attend school. When absence from school is portrayed as negative, avoidable and a personal choice, this creates a simplistic and distorted picture of what many children and their families are dealing with each day.

The use of 100% attendance rewards excludes certain students from the moment they start school. Blanket punitive and adversarial absence reporting creates additional stress and worry for parent/carers when they may be dealing with issues of their own ability to get into work and provide care for an unwell child.

So, in a bid to drive up overall attendance figures we risk making life more difficult and less inclusive for an already marginalised group. So often the subtleties of situations are lost in the rush for a headline or a slogan, the impact of which can have a damaging and long-lasting effect on individual children and young people.

Many schools have come a long way in considering the needs of students with chronic health conditions, they are supportive of reasonable adjustments, they create inclusive classrooms. We do not want to lose these gains in the rush to deal with an issue that we may not even fully understand.

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HOPE

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HOPE (Hospital Organisation of Pedagogues in Europe)