CLIC Sargent, the UK’s leading cancer charity for children and young people, welcomed a government commitment yesterday that "pupils with cancer deserve as good an education as any other pupil and poor health should never mean poor education".
The statement from Elizabeth Truss MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education and Childcare, came in a debate called by Labour MP Mark Tami, after CLIC Sargent published its report No Child with cancer left out, highlighting a range of challenges children are facing in keeping up with school and reintegrating back after treatment for cancer.
Two of the children and families who contributed to CLIC Sargent’s report attended the debate - Kieran Arthey and his stepdad, David, and Josh Hill with his parents David and Lynda.
Mark Tami MP, who represents Alyn and Deeside in Wales, said:
"I’m encouraged that the Minister recognised the importance of this issue, and backed many of the recommendations that CLIC Sargent made in its report, including the need for educational and emotional support for children with cancer to be more co-ordinated and flexible, and for local authorities to provide a decent level of home tuition when children can’t attend school.
"But we need to work together at a national and local level to make sure those words are backed up with action, so that every child with cancer has the support they need."
Mark Tami MP’s own son Max, now 14, was diagnosed with leukaemia five years ago at the age of nine. After three years of treatment Max has made a good recovery and is now studying for his GCSEs, and although Max had a good experience receiving support from his school, hospital and the local education authority, CLIC Sargent’s report has shown this is not the case for many children with cancer.
During the debate in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon, Mr Tami called on the Government to act on some of the key recommendations in CLIC Sargent’s report, including:
- Discouraging local authorities from cutting funding for hospital schools and home tuition, describing it as "penny pinching", given that the few children affected by cancer meant financial savings were small
- Promoting a more joined-up approach between schools, hospital schools, home tutors and parents, so children can make the transition from hospital to home and back to school more easily
- Sharing good practice amongst schools
The Minister outlined a number of areas where the Government wanted schools, hospitals, local authorities to work together to ensure a flexible and more co-ordinated approach to providing educational and emotional support for child with cancer during and after treatment.
On home tuition, something that CLIC Sargent discovered many families had difficulty securing for their child, Elizabeth Truss MP said that although local authorities have a legal duty to provide at least 5 hours of home tuition a week to children not able to attend school because of a serious illness, the Government believed that: "if the child’s health allows, we expect that provision to be full-time. If that is not happening in practice, it needs to be followed up. That is an important part of the Government’s policy."
Lorraine Clifton, chief executive of CLIC Sargent, said:
"I want to thank Mark Tami MP for bringing this issue to Parliament and the Education Minister, Elizabeth Truss MP, for her responses on the key areas where improvements are needed.
"Sometimes parents, already struggling to cope with their child's diagnosis, have to fight to get the help their child needs - and they can feel really let down by the system.
"Our report has shown that when schools, hospitals, local authorities and other partners work together effectively, children with cancer do not have to be left behind at school, but at the moment too many are. We want to work with Government and other partners to promote the good practice we’ve identified and ensure every child with cancer gets the support they need."
The charity will meet with the Department for Education later this month to discuss how new guidance for local authorities on the education of children with health needs and the forthcoming Children and Families Bill can join up and ensure that the needs of young cancer patients in education are met.