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EDITIONS
Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 17:37 GMT 18:37 UK
Teachers call for medical support
School pupil
Teachers fear treating medical problems incorrectly
By BBC News Online's Gary Eason at the NASUWT conference in Jersey

Teachers say they are increasingly being asked to undertake invasive or intimate medical care of pupils, often without proper training.

They say schools are using emotional blackmail to get teachers to take into their classes "medically fragile" children, to keep up pupil numbers because of the funding that goes with them.


You wouldn't be expecting a surgeon to be teaching somebody while they are in hospital

Ian Draper
teacher
There are fears that sooner or later a teacher could unwittingly fail to do something, or do something wrongly, which could harm a child - with the risk of then being sued by the parents.

Delegates at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) annual conference say one solution could be a big revival of school nurses.

Dave Battye said his branch of the union, in Derbyshire, had produced advice for its members about giving medicines to pupils which said simply: "Don't do it".

"Don't even put a plaster on in case the child is allergic," he said.

Another concern of teachers is the possibility of having to do things which could leave them open to accusations of abuse.

Mr Battye described how a teacher was taking a small group of pupils onto the moors and was being pressed to take along an 11-year-old girl who had epilepsy and had to be given rectal valium if she had a fit.

"An 11-year-old girl and a man in his 20s?! Ridiculous."

'Assumption'

Ian Draper, who teaches at Magdalen College School, Northamptonshire, said teachers were not medically trained.

"You wouldn't be expecting a surgeon to be teaching somebody while they are in hospital."

But he said there was an automatic assumption that teachers should take on children with a range of conditions such as asthma, anaphylaxis, epilepsy and diabetes - as well as those given the drug Ritalin for hyperactivity.

Ian Draper
Ian Draper: It's not acceptable to say teachers can handle it because they can handle everything

Mr Draper said they might even have to administer rectal valium for severe epilepsy, although that would usually only be in special schools.

His point is that teachers needed to be consulted in advance.

"We are not denying these children the opportunity of attending school and getting the best education that they can.

"It's that there is an assumption on the part of many employers to accept them in the classroom without looking properly at the implications of that.

Fits

"Teachers do not have the chance to say 'Hang on, how do I stand on that - I don't have the qualifications, I don't have the experience, I'm not a medical expert'."

Out-of-school activities only heightened the risk, he said.

Philippa Weightman, a teacher at White Woman Lane Middle School near Norwich, said she had had to deal with children who had had epileptic fits, and taught a child who had peanut allergy and might need an adrenalin dose.

"There are right and wrong ways to administer it. You need to know where on the body and how long it needs to remain in contact.

"Whoever does it needs to feel confident enough not to panic."

Risk assessments

What would they do with a diabetic child who became aggressive when hypoglycaemic?

"We had one in my school who used to shout and throw things about," she said.

They are calling for medical risk assessments to be carried out before children are admitted to schools, with an agreed plan for who should be responsible for their medical care.

Often support staff such as school welfare assistants were called upon to do so - again sometimes when they were not happy to do so.

So one answer might be a revival of the role of school nurses, whose numbers have been cut considerably in recent years.

See also:

19 Oct 00 | UK Education
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