Returning to school

Whether a child or young person with cancer regularly attends school may vary during the course of their treatment. It's important that the school supports them during this time and teachers communicate effectively with them and other pupils.

Some pupils need to be off school for long periods of time during treatment, while others may be able to come into school fairly regularly. This depends on the type of cancer, the treatment they are receiving, how they are responding to it and any side effects.

The teachers would offer to help but I like to be independent so I would do the majority of things on my own. But it was good to know that if I needed some help I knew who to ask.

Falling behind with work

Children and young people with cancer can worry that they have slipped behind their peers, especially older children doing exam courses. Young children may also worry more than they want to say. The school, and the child or young person's parents, should be able to reassure them and if necessary arrange extra teaching or support in class.

Teachers may need to adjust their expectations of academic performance because of the child or young person's gaps in knowledge, reduced energy, confidence or changes in ability:

  • Staff may need to explicitly teach the pupil strategies to help with concentration and memory, and the pupil may initially need longer to process new concepts
  • Wherever possible the child should be enabled to stay in the same ability sets as before, unless they specifically want to change groups
  • Regularly revise the pupils' timetable and school day as necessary.

Having a 'key' person at school

  • It's helpful to have one 'key' adult that the pupil can go to if they are upset or finding school difficult, plus a 'Plan B' person for times the usual person is not available
  • In secondary schools, you can also give the pupil a card which enables them to leave class without having to explain too much.

Physical activity

  • Make arrangements for the child or young person to move around the school easily eg allow them to leave lessons five minutes early to avoid the rush. Arrange for the pupil to have a buddy to carry their bags and for them to have access to lifts.
  • Some pupils may not want to be left out during PE despite tiredness or other physical limitations. Include the pupil as far as possible eg allow them to take part for 20 minutes rather than the full session, or find other ways for them to participate eg as referee or scorer. Their family will be aware if there are specific restrictions on them doing PE due to medical devices or vulnerability.

Briefing staff

  • Ensure that all staff, including lunchtime supervisors, have been briefed on key information
  • Staff are likely to have concerns about how to respond if the child or young person becomes unwell in school. It's important that your school liaises with their specialist cancer nurse where possible. Ask if the child or young person will be attending school with any medical devices fitted, or have any specific medical needs.
  • If staff are concerned about the pupil, it's important that they phone the parents/carers to discuss the significance of signs or symptoms. Parents can collect the child and seek further medical advice if necessary.
  • It would be rare for there to be an acute emergency, but if this occurs (as with any child) call a 999 ambulance, and ensure that the crew are aware that the child or young person is on, or has recently finished, cancer treatment
  • Circulate letters about infection risks when requested by the child's family or health professionals
  • Inform other school staff about long-term effects, such as fatigue, difficulty with memory or physical changes.

Updated December 2015. Next planned review 2017.

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