Diabetes in schools

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From September, schools are legally obliged to support children with medical conditions. Libby Dowling looks at what this means for children with one of the more common conditions – diabetes.

It goes without saying that every child should have the right to feel safe and supported at school but, sadly, this has not always happened automatically for many children with Type 1 diabetes.

While many school staff already do a fantastic job and many schools have excellent procedures in place, there are still too many examples of children with Type 1 diabetes not getting the support they need at school. This leads to many children being denied the chance to have a rich and rewarding school life and meet their full academic potential. 

This can include children not being supported to administer insulin or check their blood glucose level, or not being allowed snacks in class to treat low blood glucose levels.

It is important that children with diabetes are healthy and as safe as possible at school as Type 1 diabetes is a serious condition which if not managed properly can lead to the child’s blood glucose levels going either dangerously high or dangerously low. In the long term, high blood glucose levels in childhood can increase risk of serious complications such as amputation, blindness and stroke later in life.

And it is not just their physical health that is affected. We also know of cases where children have faced discrimination and have been told that they cannot attend residential school trips or take part in PE lessons and extra-curricular activities.

For some children, not being able to do the same things as their class mates and being left out of school activities can really dent their self-esteem and wellbeing at a time when they are already having to deal with living with a serious condition.

This is why it is really good news that this should improve because a change in the law means that, from September, all schools in England will be legally obliged to support children with medical conditions.

The guidance for the new law states that schools will have to have medical policies in place that set out how they support children with medical conditions such as Type 1 diabetes, asthma and epilepsy. 

To do this, they will have to work closely with parents and relevant healthcare professionals such as diabetes specialist nurses. We also advise that schools have an individual care plan for each child, which sets out their individual needs and how they will be met by the school.

Some schools may be daunted by the prospect of having to implement the new guidance or have some concerns about how best to support children with Type 1 diabetes. But with increasing numbers of children – especially children under the age of five – developing the condition it is really important that schools understand Type 1 diabetes and know what to do to support children with the condition.

This is why we have launched our new free Type 1 Diabetes at school resource pack, entitled Make the Grade, and a new section of our website. Both the pack and the online hub are packed with information about what support children with diabetes need to keep them well and make the most of their time at school. 

We want to make this as easy as possible for schools so our resources include a guide and tips for schools on how to implement the new rules and a sample medical conditions policy, information about the condition, and answers to important questions such as how to store insulin and what training staff might need.

School staff such as school nurses and teaching assistants can also help by making sure schools and parents are aware of the new guidance. School nurses in particular can point parents of children recently diagnosed with the condition to our new resources for parents. The resources include a flyer setting out what care parents should expect from their child’s school. There are also resources to give to the child’s school, including a booklet about Type 1 diabetes and how to look after children with it. 

We really hope these new resources for schools and parents will help ensure schools are able to support children with Type 1 diabetes so that they are able to make the most of their time at school. By working with parents and schools we can help ensure that children with diabetes get the best support possible and the best start in life.

  • Libby Dowling is a clinical advisor with Diabetes UK.

Further information
  • For more information on the schools work of Diabetes UK, including the Make the Grade resource, visit http://diabetes.org.uk/schools 
  • For details of the new legal duties on schools to support children with medical conditions, visit http://bit.ly/1v3Y9c9
CAPTION: Diabetes aware: A diabetes sufferer uses a blood glucose monitor


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