Parliamentary Question: guidance on a child’s right to education outside the classroom, 4th, 5th & 6th! July 2011

This is a strangely disconnected answer to a parliamentary question asked by the Countess of Mar. The thought occurs immediately – why wasn’t her question answered by a Department for Education spokesman?

The Countess asked the Government: “In the light of evidence linking school absences for long-term illness with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, what guidance they currently issue to schools and parents about the illness and a child’s right to education outside the classroom; and what plans, if any, they have to extend this guidance.”

In a written reply on 4 July 2011, Department of Health minister Earl Howe answered:

Requirements for Social Work Training published in 2002 set out the outcome statements for what a student social worker must know, understand and be able to do to be awarded the degree in social work. This can be found at: www. dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsPolicyAndGuidance/DH_4007803. A copy has already been placed in the Library.

It is the responsibility of individual employers to ensure that their staff are appropriately trained for the work that they do.

Curiouser and curioser! The same question was answered in the House of Lords the following day by an Education Minister, but it was asked by a different member. Could there have been a mix-up in the official record of proceedings?

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked the same question:.

He was answered on 5 July 2011 by Lord Hill of Oareford, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, who replied:

We are committed to ensuring that children with long-term illnesses receive as normal an education as possible.

Statutory guidance published jointly with the Department of Health in 2001 sets out the national minimum standards for the education of children who are unable to attend school because of medical needs. It also sets out the roles and responsibilities of mainstream schools in meeting the needs of children who are on their roll but are away from school due to illness. We do not publish separate guidance on managing specific illnesses and health conditions.

Further guidance for schools on Managing Medicines in Schools and Early Years was published in 2005. This recommended, among other things, that there should be a clear policy in each school, an individual healthcare plan for any child with medical needs, and training for staff.

The Government will commence, from this September, the provisions in Section 3 of the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010. This will place a duty on local authorities to provide full-time education for all children who they place in alternative provision. The only exemption will be where, for reasons which relate to the physical or mental health of the child, it would not be in the child’s best interests to be in full-time education.

Current guidance will be amended to reflect this change in legislation.

The mix-up was finally cleared up on July 6 when the Countess circulated copies of the Written Answers which had been sent to her office:

The Countess had asked what training social workers received to enable them to differentiate between a child with CFS/ME diagnosed by a clinician and a child with Pervasive Refusal Syndrome, or whose parents are given a Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy/Factititious Induced Illness label.

The first answer applied.

And the Countess asked the second question – not Lord Alton.

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