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Rules for schools 'putting diabetic children at risk'

By Lindsay Fergus

The education of Northern Ireland children with diabetes is being placed at risk because of lax government guidelines for schools, it has been warned.

'Out of date' advice from the Stormont Department of Education means that teachers and classroom assistants do not have to administer life-saving insulin injections to pupils with type 1 diabetes, forcing children with the serious condition to miss school, to be excluded from school trips and to be banned from extra-curricular activities.

There are around 400 primary school children - many too young to self-administer their medication - in Northern Ireland living with diabetes.

Although some schools, which do not want to be identified, are prepared to give a diabetic child the vital lunchtime jab, the majority are not.

The Belfast Telegraph understands that teaching staff are concerned that the 2008 guidelines, Supporting Pupils With Medication Needs, is not clear enough, nor does it give them adequate protection.

Mark Langhammer, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said: "The department needs to clarify its guidelines. It is not a core role of a teacher, but teachers would not object if they were adequately trained and the appropriate insurance was in place."

It means that some parents, including Belfast mother Vanda Ralston, are having to quit their jobs so they can go to their child's school every day to oversee their medication and accompany them on school educationals.

Yet the Disability Discrimination Act indicates clearly that children should not be excluded from activities, and efforts must be made to ensure they are not discriminated against.

So a plea has gone out to the Department of Education to review the guidelines.

Ahead of launching its Children's Campaign at Stormont today, Diabetes UK Northern Ireland urged the education system to take diabetes seriously and to encourage head teachers to find a solution.

Iain Foster, national director for Diabetes UK Northern Ireland, said: "While we accept that teachers have a voluntary role in administering medication, there is an onus on schools to fully appreciate the duty of care they have in relation to a child and their access to education."

ATL has also stated that it will be contacting Diabetes UK Northern Ireland to discuss the issue.

South Belfast MLA Conall McDevitt (below left) said: "As a parent of a child with type 1 diabetes, I am deeply concerned about the obvious gap in current guidelines and how they are leaving many young children excluded from aspects of school life."

Education Minister John O'Dowd said: "I do not believe that any child should be excluded from a school trip because of them having diabetes and department officials wrote to the education and library boards in September to emphasise this.

"Disability discrimination legislation requires all schools to integrate children with disabilities, such as diabetes, within the life of the school and to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that they are not at a substantial disadvantage compared to other pupils," he said.

"School principals are aware that there is a considerable amount of training and support available."

Factfile

According to the Northern Ireland Childhood Diabetes Register, there are approximately 1,000 children living with the disease. Type 1 diabetes occurs in childhood and is not linked in any way to diet or lifestyle factors. It is caused when the body stops producing insulin. Treatment is always via insulin injections or pump. Symptoms include excessive thirst, high levels of urination, weight loss and tiredness. For more information see www.diabetes.org.uk/northernireland

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