Here, in her own words, Helen Gravestock, our Research and Policy Manager, explains CLIC Sargent's three-year campaign that helps to ensure children and young people with cancer can fulfil their potential in education and future employment.
The campaign has made real progress, but there’s no room for complacency, and more teaching professionals need to be aware of the support that’s available.
No child or young person should miss out on their education because they have cancer.
But the disruption caused by cancer and its treatment, which can take up to three years, poses a huge challenge, and many will need additional support.
CLIC Sargent's education campaign
As part of our education campaign, CLIC Sargent explored the impact of cancer on education, employment and training on children and young people and published three reports:
- No teenager with cancer left out
- No young person with cancer left out.
- No child with cancer left out
The research behind these reports has helped us to tackle some key issues by influencing reforms to education policy, and by developing practical guidance for local authorities, teachers and other professionals.
For example, our research identified an inconsistent approach to supporting children and young people with cancer who were out of school during treatment.
Barriers to education
We found that some parts of the country had excellent and supportive approaches in place, helping children and young people to continue their learning while at home or in hospital.
But many parents who were already struggling to cope with their child’s diagnosis told us that they had to fight to get a decent education for their child, and that they felt really let down by the system.
A cancer diagnosis can also cause young people to become anxious about their future prospects.
Three out of five (61%) said that having cancer had presented barriers to their education. While some educational providers had the skills and confidence to stay in touch with families and students during treatment to provide support, and to discuss the adjustments needed to make their return to education easier, others were lacking in this area.
Children and Families Act
We have worked with other charities, parliamentarians and civil servants throughout the passage of the Children and Families Bill to improve the situation.
The Bill became an Act in 2014 and under this new legislation local authorities now have a duty to support children with medical conditions and to produce an ‘Independent Healthcare Plan’, setting out the support a child with cancer will need on their return to school.
CLIC Sargent worked with the Department for Education to develop statutory guidance for schools to fulfil this new duty, as well as guidance for local authorities on supporting pupils who cannot attend school because of a medical condition.
There is concern, however, that plans to combine statutory guidance on supporting the needs of children too ill to attend school with that for permanently excluded pupils, could lower the profile of children with medical needs.
Once published later this year, a clear and sufficiently resourced communication strategy must be developed to ensure that local authorities are aware of the changes to the guidance. There’s no room for complacency, and we’ll be following developments in this area closely.
The Children and Families Act also reformed the system that supports children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.
Education Health and Care Plans have replaced Statements of Special Educational Needs and Learning Disability Assessments for 0-25 year olds. CLIC Sargent is working with professionals to raise awareness of the changes and to enable all children with cancer who need a plan to be able to access one.
More needs to be done to better coordinate the education policy affecting children with cancer. For example, a more joined-up approach and better signposting to the three key policy documents that support children with cancer.
Tools for teachers
Very often it’s the simple things that can help to improve outcomes for children and young people with cancer, like additional training and support for those working in educational settings.
Our free Cancer in School Life pack is a great resource for teaching professionals who are unsure about what practical action they should take when a student is diagnosed with cancer.
Our visual policy guide for professionals also aims to help them get to grips with how to support children with cancer in all education settings, including hospital education and on their return to school. We have also developed online information resources for post-16 education providers and employers on how to support young people at college, university or in the workplace.
The official campaign is now over. But we will be continuing our work with charity partners and the government to raise awareness of the need for better support, and to promote the resources we have developed to help education providers, local authorities and other professionals support students with cancer.
With the right support in place many more children and young people with cancer will be able to fulfil their academic potential, and enjoy a brighter future.