Teachers’ ignorance is putting children with asthma at risk

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A disturbing three quarters of teachers are not completely confident about what to do if a child in their class has a potentially life-threatening asthma attack, yet asthma is the most common long-term condition affecting children in the UK and on average there are two children with asthma in every classroom.

The impact this lack of confidence has on children with asthma can be clearly seen in a new report called Missing Out that Asthma UK is launching on World Asthma Day (5 May).

The report is based on conversations with children across the UK and paints a bleak picture of life at school for children and young people with asthma.

Half the children we spoke to said that their asthma meant that they had problems joining in with lessons and going on school trips with the rest of their class. Almost three quarters said they had problems joining in PE lessons and 40% said their asthma stopped them having fun. A frequent worry was that teachers simply didn’t understand the condition and that as a result children were either placed in a ?protective bubble’, with teachers banning them from certain activities, or conversely they were dismissed by ill-informed teachers as being ?melodramatic’ or ?over-reacting’. In a particularly poignant example, a young person was told by their chemistry teacher that their asthma made them a ?liability’ and was asked to stand outside the classroom while an experiment took place.

It is difficult to pinpoint the reasons behind teachers’ lack of confidence in dealing with asthma in the classroom, but we believe that lack of direction from the Government on how teachers should support children with asthma, is an important factor. In addition there is no system in place to audit the effectiveness of school asthma policies or whether they are even being used and many schools must contend with a severe lack of school nurses available to help them implement the policies and train teachers on how to use them.

Until teachers are empowered to feel fully confident about dealing with asthma in the classroom, children with asthma are at risk of missing out on their childhood by being excluded from PE and school trips, being prevented from playing with their friends or in the very worst cases, being subjected to unnecessary and traumatising dashes to A&E.

Chantelle Down is fourteen years old and her mother Claire says: ?The teachers really don’t know what to do if Chantelle is having an attack. One day she had a really severe attack in the changing rooms during PE because the other girls were using aerosol sprays. Chantelle’s PE teacher didn’t have a clue what to do and left it to another pupil to guide Chantelle outside in the fresh air to take her inhaler.’

Asthma UK will be discussing the issues raised in the Missing Out report in a range of events around the UK for World Asthma Day. As part of our call to action to help children with asthma, we will be asking governments to:

– Increase numbers of school nurses. We believe there should be access to a school nurse in every school. Westminster must ensure, as a minimum, that its 2004 pledge for every secondary school in England and its cluster of primary schools to have a specialist school nurse in post by 2010 is met.

– Introduce clear guidelines for schools on their responsibilities for supporting children with asthma. MPs in England should support the Private Members’ Bill on support for children with health conditions in schools. The 2006 Education and Inspections Act should be strengthened to establish standards for supporting children and young people with health conditions, and compliance should be inspected by OFSTED.

– Develop and implement consistent standards for asthma. There is an eightfold difference in emergency hospital admissions for children between different Primary Care Organisations (PCOs) across the country. More needs to be done to tackle this huge variation and to ensure that standards are actively implemented and regularly monitored. Scotland has children’s standards, Northern Ireland is currently consulting on children’s standards and Wales has a limited number. We want England to follow these examples.

We’re also asking schools to ensure that they have an asthma policy in place and that all school staff, including both teachers and support staff, are familiar with it and their responsibilities for implementing it. To support this Asthma UK has worked in partnership with other health charities to pilot the first Medical Conditions at School Policy Pack in England (available to download on the website asthma.org.uk) and schools policy pack in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Asthma UK also runs Alert to Asthma sessions which train early years carers and teachers in the basic understanding of asthma, including treatments and a knowledge of what to do if a child in their care has an asthma attack.

Neil Churchill, Chief Executive at Asthma UK says: ?The pre-conceptions that lead some teachers to ban children with asthma from taking part in PE and other school activities, demonstrates the same lack of knowledge that would make those teachers unable to help if a child in their classroom were to have an asthma attack.

?There is no need to wrap children up in cotton wool but it is every school’s responsibility to ensure that teachers have the knowledge and resources to protect and support the children in their care. This will ensure that over a million children with asthma in the UK do not “miss out” on their childhood.’

Source: Asthma UK, UK

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