Supporting Children with Health Needs: Everything you need to know

Following recent updates to DfE guidance, this blog sheds light on the role and responsibilities of schools to ensure that children with health needs receive the quality education they deserve.
Children in the early years classroom lined up and smiling at the camera.
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Every child, regardless of background, circumstance or setting, deserves the best possible start in life and the opportunity to achieve their full potential. As educators, we understand that supporting children’s right to education is the best investment we can make to elevate their chances for success in the future.  

For most children, learning takes place in school. But there will be occasions where a child cannot attend school due to a physical or mental health need. To ensure that every child continues to receive the quality education they deserve, the Department for Education has recently updated statutory guidance for arranging suitable education for children who cannot attend schools because of health needs.  

This guidance makes it clear that where a child is not attending school/cannot access a full-time education due to a physical or mental health need, the Local Authority has a statutory responsibility for arranging a suitable alternative offer. Furthermore, this provision should be the same high standard of education that is ‘equivalent to that provided in mainstream schools, as far as the child’s health needs allow’ and meet the individual need of that child.  

The child’s ‘home school’ (the school they are on roll at when they become ill) has an essential part to play in ensuring the child receives provision appropriate to the individual, particularly regarding reintegration back in to school where applicable.  Read ahead to find a helpful summary of your role and responsibilities as a school in order to ensure these standards are consistently met.  

Arranging education for children who cannot attend school because of health needs: A summary for schools

  1. Continuing to provide education at school whenever possible 

Wherever possible, schools are encouraged to support children with health needs to continue attending school. There are a range of circumstances where health issues can and should be managed within the school setting, without the need for intervention from the local authority.  

When children are absent due to short-term illnesses, such as chicken pox or influenza, schools are expected to provide support to help them keep up with their learning. Further guidance can be found in the Supporting pupils at school with medical conditions document.  

Schools should also be mindful of how they can support pupils with mental health needs. More information can be found in the Mental health issues affecting a pupil’s attendance guidance.  

  1. Ensuring transparency and sharing information 

When pupils are not attending school regularly, schools have a duty to inform the local authority of their full name and address – including those children who are absent due to health needs.   

Local authorities are expected to have a named officer who is responsible for the education of children with health needs. Similarly, the guidance suggests that schools have a named person who will act as a point of contact for the local authority and parents, encouraging open and effective communication. As soon as it becomes clear that a home school can no longer provide a suitable education due to health needs, the school should speak to the local authority about putting alternative provision in place. Schools should be involved with the regular reviewing of the provision made.  

  1. Hospital education 

In cases of hospitalisation, schools should collaborate with the hospital and local authority on a personal education plan to ensure continuity of learning. This involves supporting children to access appropriate education and exams during their stay in hospital, as well as facilitating their return to school or alternative provision after discharge. This should help them ‘keep up’ with learning, rather than having to ‘catch up’.  

  1. Decision-making 

According to the guidance, schools should involve both the parents and the child in the decision-making process. This includes professionals within the Virtual School for children are cared for by the Local Authority. This will ensure that schools are equipped with all the relevant information to support alternative arrangements, whilst ensuring the child remains engaged and committed to their education.  

  1. Funding  

Alternative provision for children with medical needs is funded from the local authorities’ high needs budgets. However, a home school may wish to transfer a portion of the school’s funding associated with that child in order to ensure that the money ‘follows the child’. This also includes the mandatory funding adjustments made by the local authority when the child is removed from the roll of the home school.  

  1. Reintegration  

To support reintegration, the child should be able to access the curriculum and materials from their home school wherever possible. Provision should be tailored to each individual to help them overcome barriers to attainment and achievement, including giving children the opportunity to take appropriate qualifications, which will enable them to reintegrate successfully back into school.

Similarly, provision should be made to ensure children’s personal, social and emotional needs are met. For example, making sure that children feel a sense of belonging with their school community, stay in contact with classmates and have access to the same opportunities enjoyed by their peers. The home school should consider how to ensure that children remain in touch whilst they are away and approach a reintegration plan flexibly.  

  1. Complex or long-term health issues 

Children that have continuing health needs should have an Individual Health Plan which is contributed to by professionals in school. If a child’s needs amount to ongoing special educational needs, schools need to consider whether an EHCP may be more appropriate to meet the needs of the child.  

Delivering a world-class education for all children, including those with health needs of varying complexity, requires a collaborative effort from schools, local authorities, parents, healthcare professionals, and other relevant agencies. We hope this blog sheds light on the role of school leaders and SENDCos as a crucial partner in this endeavour.  

If you require any further information or support, please do not hesitate to get in touch.  

Together with experts in SEND, Education Welfare & Safeguarding, and Educational Psychology, we can ensure you have the support you need to create a high-quality learning experience that is inclusive of each and every child.  

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