Helping Children With Medical And Mental Health Conditions Get The Best Out Of School

School transitions during the pandemic

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This year’s move from Primary to Secondary school and from school/college to University is another uncertain one. As we learn to live with Covid19 many of the traditional school transitions rituals are still disrupted. Itimportant to plan ahead and give children and young people all the support they need in the run up to school changes. 

Change brings both excitement and worry but during these uncertain times the established systems, routines and rituals have been disrupted. New systems have been drawn up and amended as circumstances change and this may create additional worry and anxiety for some young people.

What is vital throughout this period is open and clear communication with young people and their families. An acknowledgement that this is a more challenging time for some but that staff are available to listen and work to understand how it is for the young person so that support can be made available where possible.

For some young people living with medical and mental health conditions the future is even more daunting as they deal with an the additional complexity of managing a health condition alongside the general uncertainty of a new beginning.

Here we make some suggestions about what school communities can do to support. Also find links to more detailed information, articles and research that may help as plans are formed and adjusted for a somewhat uncertain term ahead...

Whole School Approach

  • Thinking about, planning for, and offering support for transition early is important.

  • All students will benefit from support around acknowledging and managing anxiety.

  • Developing a whole school approach will offer universal support to everyone.

  • Some students will require a more targeted approach that may require specialist input.

  • Early identification and prompt action where possible can help those needing additional or specialist support.

  • Schools are experts in transitions already, the task is to reflect and adapt where possible what they know works.

  • Presenting information that is honest, transparent and truthful will normalise the transition process. E.g. acknowledge that change can bring worry but it can also be exciting. These are uncertain times and as such plans may change.

  • Frame transition in a positive light by celebrating achievements. Though whole school assemblies are unable to go ahead achievements can be communicated via school newsletters and video announcements and awards.

Strategies & Actions

  • Promote mental health and wellbeing literacy by being explicit in what the school does to support students and staff, make this clear in communications with students and families.

  • Explain that transition arrangements will be different this year, but that careful thought and planning is going in to making the process as supportive as possible.

  • Communicate as early as possible with students and families to help alleviate concerns and worries. Even if a query cannot be answered directly as this time a response that acknowledges their concern will be helpful.

  • Communication should be clear and welcoming.

  • Possible ways to communicate information to families can include letters, video meetings, phone calls, recorded messages on specific topics, video tours of the school.

Student Transition Activities

Part of transition planning involves reducing anxiety about what life at a new school will be like. Though this may be more challenging than usual if direct visits are not able to go ahead before students start at a new school, there are other ways to communicate information.

  • Video taster lessons

  • Video or written messages from key staff members, e.g. headteacher, form tutor, pastoral lead.

  • Letters from students in the year above describing life at the school.

  • Video tour of school. Include parts of the school that are used to offer students support when they are anxious or unwell. It is important to be explicit about what the school offers by way of wellbeing as well as academic, sporting and creative arts spaces.

  • Be clear about transport arrangements, school bus systems and protocols

  • Create and send out information packs on anxiety. Good resources can be found here: www.annafreud.org/schools-and-colleges/resources/we-all-have-mental-health-animation-teacher-toolkit/

Supporting Students with Medical and Mental Health Conditions

  • Good communication is essential.

  • Liaise between key primary and secondary school staff (SENDCO, from tutor, class teacher) to ensure that the student’s needs and successful strategies are clearly communicated. (phone call, email, video meeting).

  • Communication between key staff and the family and student to ensure that all relevant information is up to date and correct as time of transition.

  • Gather information from the family on key medical personnel involved. A clinical psychologist may be working with the young person if they have a chronic health condition. Staff from CAMHS (Child and adolescent mental health services) may be involved if there is an identified mental health condition or need.

  • Establish protocols or actions required in cases of emergency.

  • Some hospitals and out-patient services have a specialist liaison nurse that may be able to offer school based training on a specific medical conditions. The allocated school nurse may be able to support or direct you to the relevant individual.

  • At earliest opportunity draw up an Individual Health Care Plan (IHP) detailing important information and review dates. 

  • Help staff become informed on a range of medical and mental health conditions so that they have some knowledge and understanding. 

Useful Links

From Coronavirus Back to the Classroom - a toolkit from Oxfordshire Hospital School 
ohs.oxon.sch.uk/from-covid-19-back-to-the-classroom

Managing unexpected endings and transitions from Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families 
www.annafreud.org/media/11610/managing-unexpected-endings-transitions-may2020.pdf

Managing the transition back to school: a guide for schools and colleges 
www.annafreud.org/media/11727/managing-transition-back-to-school-jun2020.pdf

Teacher toolkit and animation exploring transition from Primary School to Secondary School 
https://www.annafreud.org/movingup/

For more information see: www.wellatschool.org/transition

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