Supporting pupils with medical needs

Ofsted wants to see that schools support and maintain the learning and wellbeing of pupils with chronic or long-term medical conditions. Suzanne O’Connell considers how schools might do this

Children with medical needs have the same rights of admission as others, and it is important that schools are prepared to cater for them. In some cases, their needs might be long-term, as with asthma and diabetes; in other cases, their needs might be chronic, as with cancer and heart problems. Sometimes the medical condition might be both long-term and chronic.

Your school policy will identify the generic approach that you take across the school when pupils have a brief illness Where there are more complex health needs, you will need to have healthcare plans that are drawn up with professionals

Medical conditions that your pupils might have include:

  • musculoskeletal problems
  • cancer
  • asthma
  • epilepsy
  • diabetes
  • Crohn’s disease
  • heart problems
  • mental health problems (anxieties, depression, school phobia).

Your responsibility

Your school policy will identify the generic approach that you take across the school when pupils have a brief illness that might need prescription medicines. In addition to this, where there are more complex health needs, you will need to have healthcare plans that are drawn up with professionals, to ensure that individual needs are catered for.  

Your responsibilities begin as soon as you become aware that a pupil with a particular medical condition might be coming to your school. The transfer of pupils is a critical time, and any health professionals already involved will need to contribute to the process. Your own school nurse should be able to liaise with other health professionals and provide additional advice and guidance.   

It is not only meeting the needs of the individual pupil that is important; other pupils in the school should be aware of specific needs that their peers have and understand the issues behind the medical condition in an age-appropriate way. Your curriculum and general ethos are crucial here. 

Your general approach

Putting in place a healthcare policy

You should have in place a policy for dealing with medical needs. This should identify:

Other pupils should be aware of specific needs that their peers have and understand the issues behind the medical condition in an age-appropriate way. Your curriculum and general ethos are crucial here

  • how you store and administer medication during the school day and during trips and outings
  • the names of first aiders and how they can be contacted
  • where the first-aid boxes are located
  • other staff roles and responsibilities
  • a statement on parental responsibilities, e.g., the need for prior written agreement from parents for any medication to be given to a child
  • the circumstances in which children may be given any non-prescription medicines
  • how staff are kept informed about medical needs and health issues, and what training they might receive
  • the procedure for establishing a healthcare plan and how medical interventions are logged
  • what staff should do in the case of a minor ailment or injury
  • what staff should do in the case of an accident or more serious injury (including a head injury).

The Department of Health document Managing Medicines in Schools and Early Years Settings (2005) continues to be an important reference source.

Drawing up a healthcare plan

Where a pupil is identified as having a chronic or long-term medical condition, it is important that you draw up a healthcare plan in conjunction with parents and other healthcare professionals.

The plan might include:

  • details of the condition
  • special requirements, e.g. dietary needs
  • what constitutes an emergency and what action to take
  • the role of staff
  • contact information.

It is important that this plan is communicated to all the staff working with the pupil – and that they understand and are able to implement their responsibilities. This might require additional specific training to be made available. Where training is received, a training record should be kept. It should be completed and signed by the trainer, with the names of everyone who has received the training.

In some cases, it might be necessary to include a risk assessment attached to the healthcare plan. This should be completed with the help of a specialist health practitioner.

Administering medicines

It might be necessary to include a risk assessment attached to the healthcare plan. This should be completed with the help of a specialist health practitioner

There is no legal duty that requires staff to administer medicines. However, some staff will be prepared to do so and/or you may choose to appoint members of staff who have this role as part of their job description.

Whether voluntary or part of their role, all staff involved should be clear about the procedures for storage and administration of medicines, and should have appropriate training.

Your legal duty

Pupils with a chronic illness or long-term health condition may be covered by the Equality Act 2010 if the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Under the public sector Equality Duty, schools are required to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the act
  • advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not
  • foster good relations between people who share protected characteristics and those who do not.

These requirements should be kept in consideration when preparing the healthcare plan and when supporting staff and pupils in implementing it.

Inspecting provision for pupils with medical needs

School inspectors will consider the needs of pupils with chronic or long-term medical conditions alongside other vulnerable groups. They will be interested to see what staff are doing to ensure that they are safeguarding and supporting these pupils. Reporting against this might occur in any of the judgements.

It is worthwhile mentioning in your self-evaluation any provision that you are making to support pupils. If there are pupils with medical needs on roll and the school has not identified how it supports them in its self-evaluation, inspectors are advised to investigate further.

Inspectors will look closely at attendance data. Where there are pupils with long and persistent absence from school due to medical needs, they will want to know how you are supporting their education, personal development and wellbeing, for example by working with a hospital school. If another organisation or agency is involved, it is important that the school demonstrates that there is close liaison with them.  

What Ofsted will be looking for

Where there are pupils with long and persistent absence from school due to medical needs, inspectors will want to know how you are supporting their education, personal development and wellbeing, for example by working with a hospital school

Inspectors will want to see that:

  • the school has a policy for dealing with medical needs and the administration of medication   
  • this policy is monitored and evaluated
  • there is a named person responsible for dealing with pupils who are unable to attend school because of medical needs
  • there are staff in the school who have sufficient knowledge to help manage pupils’ medical needs
  • school leaders track the progress of pupils with medical needs as a separate group
  • the school seeks the views of parents who have children with medical needs, to check that they are satisfied with the quality of support.

Where a pupil does have a chronic or long-term condition, inspectors will also be looking to see that:

  • teaching, the curriculum and/or the use of resources are amended to help meet the pupil’s needs
  • teachers are aware of when it is – and when it is not – advisable for the pupil to participate in different activities
  • teachers are aware of the potential risks associated with a pupil’s condition, and of what constitutes an emergency and how they should respond
  • disruption to education is minimal, including at transition times.

With an increasing emphasis on attendance, this is an important area to develop as part of your school improvement process.

Author details

Suzanne O'Connell has more than 25 years' teaching experience, 11 years of which were as a junior school headteacher. She has a particular interest in special needs, child protection and extended services and is currently a writer, editor and...