Sending your child to school for the first time is a big step for any parent but especially when they are starting school with food allergies. I feel anxious just thinking about it as J starts in September! So, to alleiviate some of the fear and make sure he is as safe as possible, I have been working with his new school to create a school allergy management plan.
It’s important to do this as soon as possible so the school has a chance to make changes, ask questions and get everything ready. J starts his taster sessions in June so I am putting things in place before then.
Arrange a meeting
The first thing I did was to arrange a meeting with the the headteacher and the class teacher. It is important both these people attend as one will have the most contact with your child but the other is essential for implementing any school wide changes and procedures. If the school has a SEN team, you may want to get them involved as well.
My main aim is to create mutual trust and good communication with the school so I started by saying “I would like to discuss how to keep him safe and ensure he can participate fully in school life.” I want our approach to be inclusive, practical and about finding ongoing solutions together.
Set clear expectations
In my initial email I set out some clear points that I wanted to cover during the meeting so we all had a blueprint of what to expect. Here are the points I included:
Allergy and adrenaline injector training
Care plans and management
Medication storage and access
Schoolwide allergy education
Classroom snacks, projects, crafts and celebrations
Lunchtime seating arrangements, hand washing, cleaning and food management
Birthdays, parties, school events and cake sales
This worked really well as we were able to address each point individually, discuss it in depth and know that all the key questions had been covered.
Things we discussed included:
Where J will sit at lunchtime and how to minimise risk.
Creating a system so children all wash/wipe their hands after eating.
Medication being unlocked and easily accessible at all times
Communicating any food related activities with plenty of notice and finding alternatives.
Educating staff and pupils about allergies and cross contamination.
There are lots of great allergy resources available but I did not want to overwhelm the school with information so I kept it simple.
I sent them a link to Allergy UK’s page on the symptoms of anaphylaxis. I also sent them a link to their advice and test for school allergy plans. Although aimed at highschools, it covers a lot of key points.
Finally, I thought this document from American charity FARE was a really detailed list of ways to reduce risk across the school.
Offer to be involved
The more you can be involved with the whole process from the beginning, the better. This will help build your relationship with the school, make sure everything is in place and hopefully create clear channels of communication.
For example, I offered to create a safe snacks list and help with any allergy education. I will also be working with the school nurse on his care plan and attending the adrenaline injector training for staff so I can talk about J’s individual reactions and symptoms.
J is not going to a nut free school and it is not realistic, or advisable in my opinion, to ban all his allergens. So it is important that training, education and ongoing communication are key.
Educate your child
As well as working closely with the school, it is important that J understands his allergies and can help protect himself. We always talk about food allergies in our house, whether it comes up through meal times, role play or out and about. We have taught J what he is allergic to, he knows ingredients can be hidden and never to take food from anyone apart from us. He also understands what an adrenaline injector does and how to tell people if he feels unwell.
This is an ongoing process though as he has accepted food a few times from people when it looks familiar. We never get angry with him but try to use it as a learning experience. He is only 4, so while it is essential he learns to navigate the world with his allergies, it is also important that the school and any caregivers minimise the risks he faces.
Here are few articles that also give some great advice from allergy mums that have been there and done it. Karen from Tom’s Secret Agents has created a really comprehensive allergy management plan including information for school and policies to put in place. Nathalie, from Intolerant Gourmand went through all this last year. She gives lots of good advice and wrote an amazing letter to other parents – an idea I will be taking too!
We have been lucky so far, as J’s new school has been keen to put a plan in place and happy to discuss a wide range of measures. Unfortunately, I have heard from some parents who have not had such an easy approach. Schools, by law, have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that any child can learn in a safe and adapted environment. If you are facing resistance, first approach the SEN coordinator for your school, your local council for support or contact Allergy UK.
What steps have you taken? Have you faced any resistance or difficulties at the school?