Allergies and school applications for 2021/22
Starting primary school is such a big milestone for our children at the age of four and five in the UK. For many families with allergies, this may also be the first time our children leave the familiar environment of home and these parents extending their trust to a third party. Open day visits and zoom calls For children starting reception in September 2021, the process has been more restrictive and meant that the normal open day visits have been replaced with school zoom meets or virtual tours in most instances with physical school visits being very rare. This is challenging as it is not always easy to get a "feel for the place"; through no fault of the school settings. These are the logistical restrictions to comply with COVID-19 restrictions to protect pupils and staff. This change for the 2021/22 admissions process has been the biggest concern for parents in making their selection. In amidst the challenges we have faced, the deadline for school admissions applications for the 2021/22 school year is fast approaching - the 15th January in many places. If you're still weighing up your options, we've put together some of our own experiences and tips to help you through the process so that you may feel empowered and confident in your choices. Selecting your school preferences When selecting your six schools in order of preference for your primary school admissions application, it is important to ensure that you are happy for your child to attend there. It has been known to not always receive the first or second option on your list; and the possibility of the sixth school being the place that your child is offered. Therefore only select schools that you would want. In this selection process it is important to ensure you have done your due diligence as best you can to make an informed decision. The key considerations for selecting a school we feel are education and social needs being met and nurtured. However, when you have a child with special medical conditions like navigating food allergies; the priority to compliment the above is to ensure your child is safeguarded and protected at school. The Law First off, your children are protected by the law. Children with allergies are covered under section 100 of the Children and Families Act 2014 whereby schools have to ensure that provisions are made to protect your child in education. People with severe food allergies are also protected by the Disability Discriminations Act 1995 and Equalities Act 2010 whereby a long term condition would impact their abilities to carry out normal activities. An example of this would relate to their school meals or participating in activities that would impact on their allergies and therefore provisions need to be made to protect and include them. Treat it like a Recruitment process to fill the role of your child's educator In order to be in the driving seat of deciding the best school for your child, it is important to undertake your research and engage with your prospective schools you are considering. Research Schools Resources - which we will cover in greater detail below Ofsted Inspection Reports - you can you the gov.uk site to find reports for specific schools to understand how they have performed on the Ofsted Talking to local parents in your friend groups Reading and posting on local online parent community groups Speaking to other parents in your early year settings if your child attends a nursery or preschool about their own experiences or feedback School Resources The best place to start is with the schools themselves for further clarification. We spoke with several schools in the last week, and despite the lockdown, there are still staff available in the admissions teams to speak with parents. In every instance, each school was happy to answer all our questions - so we would encourage being unashamedly inquisitive, as this is important. Here is a list of some of the types of questions to consider asking the school in relation to your child and how they would manage their allergies. What policy, process and systems does the school have in place for allergies and what do they know about food allergies? What is their emergency procedure in the event of a reaction? How have they adapted their school to make it safe for children with allergies? What training do they have for teachers in respect to allergies and anaphylaxis? How many and how often are staff trained? Have they had children in their school with allergies? What has been their experience? Where do they store the pupil's emergency medication? (Note: for children under the age of 10-11, it is the staff's responsibility to carry the child's medication at all times. Once the child reaches that age, it is known as the gateway to independence as they then start to carry their own.) Where is the pupil's medication kept during the school day? Do they educate the children about allergies? What processes and awareness do they have in place for other pupils should there be a child in their class with allergies or a medical need? How do they handle school dinners and catering for children with allergies? What processes do they have in place to safeguard children with allergies at mealtimes? How do they adapt their cooking and class activities that would affect a child with allergies? Chapter 8 of Zoe William's book The Busy Parent’s Guide To Food Allergies: Everything you need to know about cow’s milk allergy and other childhood food allergies provides some interesting points to enquire around activities and social settings that would affect your child - including sensory tables, handwashing, gardening activities, musical instruments etc How do they manage school trips for children with allergies? What would their expectation be of the parents of children with allergies to protect their child at school? As well as the practical considerations, Emma Amoscato raises some really interesting points about the inclusiveness of the setting when choosing your school; in chapter 12 of her book Living with allergies: Practical Tips For All The Family. "The last thing you want is for your child to be kept safe by being left out of activities." Comparisons It is a good idea to create a comparison table and list to compare and offset highlights and concerns again. Whilst this may not be the ultimate grading system to make your final decision, it certainly helps clarify any niggles when taking all things into account. In conclusion Our own experience and opinion is that whichever school your child is offered a place at and will be attending is a partnership between the parents or carers and the school. A school that is open to working with you to keep your child safe is the ideal setting, taking all other things into consideration. The secrets of a good partnership are: Communication Foster a relationship of communication and consultation from the outset so that there is transparency on both ends. As with other aspects of allergies, the overwhelm can come from the unknown. The more you know what you're dealing with, the easier it is to nurture your child's development in this new chapter. Communication will need to be a constructive and ongoing dialogue to help both parties forward plan and protect your child's health and education needs. Strategy Agree and communicate a food allergy management plan for your child's allergy and medical needs for school well in advance of them starting - which should be reviewed annually and after every occurrence of an allergic reaction at school. The advice we received from some of the schools is to arrange a meeting or call with the school once your child's placement is confirmed which is in April 2021 with the Head Teacher. Any amendments that need to be made to protect your child will need to be ready and in place in advance of the first day of school. Therefore the communication in the months before the Summer holidays are important to ensure everything is set up in place. Your allergist or healthcare provider will provide a copy of your allergy management plan, as shown by the BSACI guidance and allergy management plan templates below. Allergy Action plan for children prescribed Epipen Allergy Action plan for children prescribed JEXT Generic Action plan for children who do not require an adrenaline auto injector Reviews Ensure that there are periodic reviews scheduled between yourself and your child's school to ensure that all information is still relevant and correct. A simple example of an allergen being removed from your child's list if they have outgrown that specifically or a change in medication needs to be communicated immediately. Finally, we wish you all the best with your admissions over the next few days. Feel free to feedback on your experiences - especially for the 2021/22 intake year.