Our dream is that, one day, support for seriously sick and injured kids to stay connected with their schools becomes business as usual in every school across Australia. To make this happen, MissingSchool engages in advocacy with schools, families, stakeholders, and policymakers so that our education and health systems change the way they see kids with medical and mental health conditions – indeed “see” them as students. It’s the only way we’ll ever succeed in securing ongoing support for every student who needs it, in every school, every day. As part of our advocacy, we’ve produced or contributed to several high-impact research reports which have laid out the issues and importance of school connection for seriously sick kids.
“Australia must achieve academic and social inclusion for sick kids for personal, social and economic progress. We can be the best in the world at this.”
~ Gilmour, 2021, Don’t Wait Until They’re Well
What Have We Done So Far?
MissingSchool has made significant contributions through our research, data collection, and publications. These continue to play a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of educational and social support for kids with complex health conditions in Australia.
Our first research report was essential in bringing to light the educational plight of sick kids and aimed to quantify the number of seriously sick students missing school (who are they?), what the evidence-based best practices are for keeping sick kids connected to school (how do we know what works?), and explored who is responsible for educational continuity (whose job is it?). The report took a systemic approach to informing policymakers and others on this unaddressed problem and guided potential solutions.
Funding from a Churchill Fellowship enabled me to travel overseas to investigate education system models for maintaining school connection for seriously sick children and my study tour took me to Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, and Canada. The report offers insights into practices and approaches in these countries and jurisdictions, viewed through a governance framework lens. These informed our services and advocacy, in particular, the use of synchronous telepresence technology to enable continuity of education and social connection for students with medical absence.
This paper was commissioned by the Australian Government in response to our report and advocacy in 2015/2016. It covers systemic collaborative practices to reduce the educational disadvantage experienced by students experiencing non-negligible school absence due to significant injury or illness in remaining engaged with their schooling and offers recommendations for policy and practice. MissingSchool’s theory of governance change was applied in the approach to the paper, and I developed and guided a methodology to assess state and territory compliance with domains of education governance.
My 2021 policy paper, supported through the inaugural Churchill Policy Impact Fellow program, argues that we have the legislation and technology, we just need the policy to support schools in taking a proactive approach to supporting educational and social connection during medical absence. It highlights the importance of clear arrangements between schools, healthcare providers and families in providing a comprehensive support system for these students. Policy recommendations include:
- Make ‘students with a health condition’ a priority equity cohort in National School Reforms
- Enhance the school/system evidence base through improved data (e.g., NCCD, ABS, schools)
- Mandate and publish school responsibility to offer classroom telepresence during absence
- Set, train and monitor practice standards for schools, hospitals, and support at home
- Adopt a national ‘health condition’ absence code; set absence thresholds to trigger support.
What About Advocacy?
MissingSchool is actively involved in advocacy efforts for policy and systems change with a focus on ensuring seriously sick children have continuity of education, across Australia, every day.
MissingSchool engages and meets with state, territory, and federal government department representatives, makes submissions to consultation processes, and triggers Senate Estimates questions. Recently, we even appeared before the Senate Inquiry into “The national trend of school refusal and related matters” – following our submission – and I provided in-person testimony before the Committee.
Our advocacy involves conducting targeted outreach to state, territory, and federal politicians to raise awareness and advocate for policy change, and we meet with Ministers’ offices and Members of Parliament to keep forging ahead with our goal for all students to be seen and heard at school.
By way of example, in the lead up to the 2022 Federal election, MissingSchool’s advocacy triggered identification of a policy pathway to implement Policy Outcome 5 (above), as this will drive action on recommendation (2). We have also been working on (1), (3) and (4) through the Seen&Heard Initiative.
So, what’s next? Under the umbrella of our Seen&Heard Initiative, we’re building a wealth of evidence-based resources. These include impact reports, peer reviewed research, and resources for parents and teachers. We’re also in the process of building a national alliance of organisations and directory to support educational and social wellbeing at school and give families and schools access to just-in-time information. Keep watching!
Throughout all our work, we recognise that none of our accomplishments would be possible without your invaluable support.
There are may ways you can make a difference:
- follow along and cheer us on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn
- share this newsletter with your family, friends, or colleagues so we can reach more sick kids, and
- donate towards getting a seriously sick child back into their classroom.
Every action moves us closer to the finish line: a world where every sick child is seen and heard.
Let’s keep connecting.