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Supporting Children with Medical
and Mental Health Needs at School


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Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, also known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD affects over 1 in 200 people in the UK. These are lifelong conditions. About one-quarter of people suffering from IBD are under 16 when they are diagnosed.

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Causes of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

  • The cause of Inflammatory Bowel Disease is unknown. Research suggests a combination of environmental and genetic factors is involved.
  • IBD is a chronic (long-term) condition.
  • Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis both cause inflammation of the digestive system. The inflammation can cause redness, swelling and pain.
  • In Crohn’s Disease, this inflammation can occur anywhere from the mouth to the anus – but is most common in the small intestine and colon.
  • Ulcerative Colitis involves only the colon and rectum (together called the large bowel), the inner lining of the large bowel becomes inflamed and tiny ulcers can develop on its surface.
  • Over time, the inflammation can damage sections of the digestive system causing additional complications.

Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

  • Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease can include diarrhoea, abdominal pain, an urgent need to use the toilet, fatigue and anaemia.

Treatments for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

  • There is currently no cure for Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
  • Medication is available to treat the symptoms and prevent them from returning.
  • Treatments can include the use of steroids, antibiotics and immunosuppressants.
  • This type of medication will help in reducing inflammation.
  • About 80% of people with Crohn’s disease will require surgery in order to relieve their symptoms and to repair damage to their digestive system.

Supporting students with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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Personal care

  • Students may need to use the bathroom urgently and have a change of clothes easily available. Make arrangements so that this can be done sensitively and discretely. A student held permission card is one way of doing this. 
  • Make sure supply or cover staff are aware of arrangements and permissions. 

Energy levels

  • Energy levels will be low at times making subjects like PE difficult.
  • Make arrangements for alternative PE activities if required. Talk to the student about what they would find helpful. (e.g. coaching role.)
  • Listen to the student and let then set their own pace and say when they need a break.

Social interaction

  • Social situations may sometimes be difficult. Increased risk of becoming withdrawn and isolated is possible due to fear of ‘having an accident’. 
  • Fear of being bullied or ridiculed due to their condition can be present. 
  • Take reports of name-calling or negative comments related to the condition seriously and act to support the student and address the issue quickly.
  • Some young people may limit eating. Alert parents/carers to any concerns you have so you can work together to support the student.
  • Be alert to changes in individual and group behaviour or increased absence from school.
  • Talk to the student and their parents/carers if you notice changes in behaviour.  

Absence from school

  • Even relatively short periods of absence can make a return to school difficult; fears of being behind with work and loss of friendships/group identity are major concerns. A good Individual Healthcare Plan drawn up with medical professionals can make a big difference.
  • Admissions to hospital can lead to anxiety about falling behind with work, 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.
  • If a student is convalescing at home following a hospital admission or is too unwell to attend school make regular contact to check on their progress and to reassure them that you will support their return to school.

More information

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HOPE (Hospital Organisation of Pedagogues in Europe)