Helping children with medical and mental health conditions get the best out of school
Great advice for teachers and SENCOs from Amy, the Reintegration Support Officer at CCHS, on helping students settle back into school after a time away for medical treatment.
It can be difficult for a young person to start back at school following time away for medical (including psychiatric) treatment. However, the right support can make all the difference, and can help the young person feel understood and comfortable as they settle back in.
Communication with the hospital school will help you have a clear picture of the young person’s situation, and what schooling they have accessed while they have been away. They can also help you plan the transition, taking into account the young person’s emotional needs/worries. If possible, involve the student in the planning, and allow them to provide feedback as they start back.
Identify the team of adults involved in the reintegration process. This may include the SENCO, form teacher, a head of year, counsellor or learning mentor etc. Identify a key teacher who will take responsibility for oversight of the process. A strong supporting team is key to a successful transition.
Allocate one person to do informal check-ins with the young person. This should be an adult the young person feels comfortable talking to such as the form teacher. However, it could even be the school receptionist, if they have a good relationship with the student and are able to provide regular feedback to the rest of the support team.
Identify useful strategies for the young person e.g. a flexible timetable, an exit card, booster classes or allocating time for them to catch up on work missed can all be helpful during the reintegration period, or longer term.
Communicate with all staff that the student works with so that they are aware of the students’ needs and are using the same strategies to support the student throughout the school. Request their understanding and flexibility - some teachers may not be aware of the student’s absence, or their additional needs, and may place unrealistic demands on them.
Be aware of times in the school day that the young person may struggle with – this can often be unstructured times such as break and lunch, or a subject they find difficult. Putting a buddy system in place, or allocating a quiet room for the young person to eat their lunch on days when they might be finding things tricky can help. It is helpful to involve the student in this planning, as they can explain what they find daunting.
In some cases, be open to discussions about the suitability of the school placement. Work constructively with parents and carers to get the right support in place or work with the medical team and the local education authority to identify specialist provision if this is the best option for the student.
Be flexible – the young person may need certain allowances to help them settle back in. They may get tired easily because of their health issues, or overwhelmed if they have been out of the school setting for a long time. Allow time for them to settle back into the school routine e.g. if they have forgotten a pen or a planner, or have not managed to do their homework.
Be aware that the young person may have missed work while they were away from school. Some may be happy to talk about what they have missed, but others may not want to draw attention to themselves by putting their hand up and saying they don’t understand. Check in with them discreetly when possible, during the lesson or afterwards, and help them catch up on key content.