Parents of sick kids should carefully consider their child’s individual needs. It’s not that easy to work out what they will be, especially if you’re dealing with a new diagnosis. They might be about absence, mobility, medication, fatigue, pain, nausea (among others) – or they might be emotional, or social. They are all valid.
All these issues result in missing school, in one way or another!
The evidence tells us there are some important things to cover when considering which school to send your kid to if she or he has (or has experienced) a serious medical condition.
Size can matter
Sick kids seem to do better in smaller rather than larger schools. You might wonder what is “better” for your kid? From parent comments, the feeling is that in smaller schools:
- the message as to what’s happening or needed for sick kids seems to get through to all staff more efficiently
- most of the teachers know most of the kids (this has to help, because if staff don’t know the kid, the kid’s issues are less likely to be dealt with)
- bigger schools mean bigger bureaucracies and more broadly spread communities
- physical distance between classrooms and school facilities tends to be shorter in smaller schools. This helps if kids’ mobility is compromised.
What do you do if your kid is already in a very large school?
- don’t suddenly change schools
- make the connections and keep communicating what’s necessary to the key people (see our Hints and Tips 101 which talks about communicating with the school)
- see how it goes and, when needed, negotiate on specific issues for better circumstances, support, and outcomes with the key people
- approach issues and conversations reasonably and consistently
- the level of support for your kid (from friends as well as staff and the broader school community) is what counts. Changing schools can also introduce a range of challenges, so a decision to do that should not be made suddenly.
Time for a new school?
The need to change schools is generally just a fact of life. The obvious shift from Primary to Secondary School is the most significant and general circumstance. In some circumstances (including in circumstances of illness) an out-of-the-ordinary change might be necessary or desirable. Whatever the reason, here are a few tips before deciding on where to enroll your kid.
Starting with a conversation with the principal (but verifying through meeting other key staff at the school), you should:
- tell them about your kid’s medical issues and the known or suspected impacts on their education.
- tell them there’s likely to be some or a lot of missed school and ask what strategies the school would put in place as a support.
Reactions to these are critical for you in gauging how ready the school is to give your kid the kind of support he or she is likely to need.
- Will the school communicate your kid’s individual needs to other staff regularly? How?
- Is there a database of written information that will document your kid’s needs? How is it passed on from teacher to teacher, year to year, so it doesn’t get lost in the system?
- Is there a liaison teacher within the school who will take responsibility for overseeing your kid’s issues, catch-up, communication between school, home and medical professionals (where appropriate and requested)?
- Will the school set up access to Learning Support professionals to assist with your kid’s likely need for “catch-up” tuition?
- What level of online and off-site support is available if/when your kid is missing school?
- Is it their view that your kid is entitled to “funded” support?
- How does the school go about developing an Individual Education Program/Plan? How often is that reviewed? What level of input is available to the parents and the kid as equal participants in the process?
- What strategies does the school currently use to give access to work for kids who miss school? For example, will the school undertake to coordinate closely with hospital school staff (when the kid is in hospital)?
- Are they prepared to organize a classroom “buddy” for messages, missed information/catch-up support?
- How flexible will the school be in staggered re-entry after prolonged absence? Eg. Part-day attendance only. (Note this will require catch-up support from class teachers or learning support professionals).
- Are they prepared to adjust assessment dates, formats, and time frames to accommodate any medically documented specific needs that might arise?
- Is there a school counsellor available and will s/he be available for, or be able to be accessed by, your kid?
All of the above can and should be asked in a collaborative way. Frame it as questions asked through concern, based on interactions with other parents who have/are in similar circumstances.
The response you should be seeking is one of a school with a flexible and a can-do attitude, backed by evidence that they have done, or are doing this for kids in serious medical circumstances. Clear, concise answers and a track record helps!
In closing, flexibility is not only the key to supporting ongoing connection for sick kids, it’s the key to successful education. Each kid is different. Each school is different. A school prepared to meet the learner at their point of need is always going to be better than one which is rigid and bound by its own rules and traditions. Schools are for kids. I am a teacher…and a parent who has supported a school-age kid through serious illness, so I am confident in saying this! (schoolmiss, 2013)
In the end, go with your gut feeling on how the principal responds. Talk to other parents and to MissingSchool, if that helps.
Tell us about your experiences? What is important for you in identifying and enrolling in a school for your seriously sick kid?