Improving allergy safety in school
John Scott compares the provision for allergic children in this country with what is on offer elsewhere.
A recent survey of Scottish schools showed that many were failing to reduce pupils' risk of anaphylaxis. Only one in three of the surveyed schools banned the sharing of eating utensils and many did not have any member of staff with appropriate training to deal with allergic emergencies.
The primary responsibility for the welfare of allergic children in school undoubtedly rests with schools and local education authorities (LEAs), rather than with any health or voluntary organisation. Unfortunately, most UK education officials are currently asleep at the wheel on this issue - a fact amply demonstrated by my own conversations with the UK Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and a small sample of LEAs and teachers.
Entitled Managing Life Threatening Food Allergies in Schools, the Massachusetts guidelines have been designed to assist schools in developing their own policies and protocols as well as in
planning for the entry to school of any child with a life-threatening allergy.
Among the provisions of the Holliston policy are the banning of food from classrooms where there are allergic youngsters, the prevention of cross-contamination of foods in the cafeteria, the development of an individual health-care plan for each affected child, and the provision of walkie-talkies to staff who supervise these students.
In the absence of clear guidance from the Government and most LEAs, the majority of UK schools are forced to rely almost entirely on information provided by the parents of allergic pupils, and the protection of this vulnerable group of children is consequently down to a motley assortment of ad hoc policies and procedures.
What parents can do
Any concerns which remain after doing this should be addressed to the school's head teacher and the local authority's director of education. If their responses do not fully dispel a parent's concerns, the latter should lobby school governors and county councillors, and enlist the help of local TV and radio, who may prove useful in creating a forum and encouraging wider support for improved allergy safety in schools.
Parents of food allergic children in New Jersey, US, have succeeded in getting a landmark food allergy law passed that calls on their Department of Education to create food allergy management guidelines for schools, and also calls on individual school districts to develop food allergy policies based on the DOE guidance.
First published in 2007