The answer is, by all accounts, unclear. Teachers are still unsure of their
responsibility for children with medical needs, despite joint guidelines
issued by the Department for Education and Employment (now known as the
Department of Education and Skills) and the Department of Health.
The National Union of Teachers is vociferous in its argument that a
teacher’s role is solely to educate – a job that it says already involves
strenuous hours. To ask teachers to undergo medical tuition on top of their
teacher training and the hours they work in the classroom is unacceptable,
says the union.
Many agree. Pat Jackson, professional officer for school and public health for
the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, told Health
Media, “The situation regarding children with medical needs is a bit hit or
miss. Teachers unions rightly say it is not the responsibility of the
professionals they represent.”
But she adds, “There are some teachers and non-teaching staff who choose to
take on the responsibility, but they all need to know when to dial 999 and
call emergency back-up services.”
According to the Department of Education and Skills, local education
authorities, schools and governing bodies are responsible for the health and
safety of pupils in their care. A spokesperson for the department told Health
Media that a head teacher or governing body has a duty to act as an “in loco
parent” when the child is at school. This may mean “making special
arrangements for particular pupils”.
Authorities and schools need to formulate their own policies, taking into
account their statutory responsibilities and local needs and resources. The
government advises schools to prepare written health and safety management
policies, ensure that staff are aware of such policies, implement appropriate
safety measures and make sure staff are properly trained.
But the National Asthma Campaign says schools need to do more. It believes one
of the main problems for asthmatic children is a lack of support and wants new
legislation to make it compulsory for all schools to implement asthma
But is it all down to the teachers? Broadcaster Nicholas Owen, whose son had
asthma as a child, says he understands the difficulties faced, not only by
parents, but also by health professionals and teachers.
“Even with caring doctors, nurses and teachers a child with asthma needs an
incredible amount of support from their parents,” he says. “I know from my
own personal experience that looking after a child with asthma is stressful.
It is such an unpredictable condition that you can never let your guard
Given that the UK has the highest rate of severe wheeze in the world for
children aged between 13 and 14 and that asthma is the UK’s most common
long-term childhood illness, one thing is clear. The teacher’s nightmare is
becoming reality. And trained or not, they are going to have to know exactly
how to react.
National Asthma Campaign
© Health Media Ltd 2002