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Supporting Children with Medical
and Mental Health Needs at School


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In all types of cancer, some of the body’s cells begin to divide without stopping and spread into surrounding tissues.

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Cancer in children and young people

The most common cancer in children and young people (38%) is leukaemia, a cancer of the bone marrow.  Other cancers develop in the form of tumours, these can occur on some of the body's organs or within tissue. On average, 82% of all children can now be completely cured. For some types of children’s cancer, the cure rate is higher.

Schools will need to consider the effects related to the treatment of cancers. Though most cancer patients will require periods of time in hospital, most will attend school either during or after their periods of treatment.

Treatments for childhood cancers

  • Surgery
  • Radiotherapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Stem cell transplant 

One of the effects of treatment is the lowering of the body's immune system and it's ability to fight off infection. Measles and Chicken Pox can psoe a serious threat. It is important that precautions are taken to ensure that contact with these diseases is avoided. 

School should immediately notify parents /carers if measles or chicken pox has been reported in the school.

Cancer treatment regimes are generally long, and during this time a student can experience severe disruption to their education. 

Effects of treatment

  • Low energy levels
  • Increased vulnerability to infection
  • Vision problems 
  • Social and emotional difficulties arising from anxiety
  • Difficulties sustaining attention 
  • Problems with general organisation 
  • Longer term effects may arise due to the nature of treatment, for example, memory and processing difficulties.

Supporting students with cancer

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Keep in touch

  • Prolonged periods of absence for treatment in hospital or at home can result in feelings of exclusion and anxiety about falling behind with school work. It is essential to have good communication between school and home. 
  • Information on what's going on socially even though a student may not be able to attend helps them to feel part of the school community. 

Help with schoolwork

  • Liaise as soon as possible with the hospital teaching team and home tutors. Students are generally keen to get on with work set by school when they feel well enough. 
  • With the agreement of parents/carers use email to contact hospital teachers and the student. It's quicker and more efficient than passing work via friends/siblings.  
  • Work can be returned for marking and feedback via email.  

Getting back to school

  • Careful planning for a return to school following a period of absence will reduce anxiety.
  • Following a prolonged absence ask the student and their parents / carers if it is OK to talk to the class and other teachers before their return. 
  • A student may be returning to school with physical changes, for example, having lost their hair, a change in weight, their face may be swollen.  
  • A member of the hospital team may be able to come into school and talk to staff and learners to explain these changes.
  • Allow the student to make some adaptations to their uniform to accommodate changes to their body. This may include: wearing a scarf or hat due to hair loss, loose clothing to accommodate a central venous line. 

Feeling tired

  • Feeling tired can be a side effect of the treatment as well as lack of sleep due to anxiety.
  • A part time timetable can be a good introduction back to school. This could be short days or part of the week.
  • Discuss with the student arrangements for PE, plan in activities they can be included in or make alternative arrangements. Don't just assume they will not participate.   

Concentration and processing time

  • Due to anxiety and the side effects of treatments students may find it hard to be organised. A buddy or staff member to check in with the student can help. 
  • Focus and processing information can be affected by medication, a student may find this disconcerting. Be sensitive to this and offer additional support.
  • Adapt work or change seating plans if necessary. 
  • It's important not to lower expectations but to make adaptations for as long as is necessary. 
  • Talk to parents / carers early on if significant extra help may be required.

More information

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HOPE (Hospital Organisation of Pedagogues in Europe)