Asthma In Wales
The report, called Missing Out, is based on conversations with children and young people from Wales and across the UK. It shows how teachers’ pre-conceptions and a general lack of understanding about asthma are causing children with asthma to ‘miss out’ or be excluded from normal childhood experiences.
Asthma affects an alarming one in nine children in Wales, meaning we have one of the highest rates of childhood asthma anywhere in the world. On average, almost 5 children a day are admitted to hospital because of the condition, yet worryingly over a third of children and their parents are not confident that their class teacher would know what to do if they had an asthma attack.
Half the children we spoke to said that their asthma meant they had problems joining in with lessons and going on school trips and almost three quarters said they had problems joining in PE lessons. Upsettingly, 40% of children 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’, being banned from taking part in certain activities, or conversely they were dismissed by ill-informed teachers as being ‘melodramatic’ or ‘over-reacting’.
Jessica Hayes, from Cowbridge in Wales, is 15, she says: 'Teachers wouldn't know what to do if I had an attack at school, they don’t seem to understand the condition. They’ve even told me not to take part in the school sport teams before because I am off a lot and they don’t want somebody who will miss matches and training sessions in the team'.
It is difficult to pinpoint the reasons behind teachers’ lack of awareness about dealing with asthma in the classroom, but we believe that direction from the Welsh Assembly Government on how teachers should support children with asthma is desperately needed. Currently there is no system in place to audit whether schools have asthma policies or if they do whether they are being affectively implemented. Shortages of school nurses available to help teachers implement the policies and train teachers on how to use them adds to the problem.
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, costly and traumatising dashes to casualty.
To support schools to better care for children with asthma we’re asking the Welsh Assembly Government to:
- Support a full implementation and monitoring of the standards for children’s specialised services. Adequate resources will be required to ensure that the standards set out in the Children and Young People’s Specialised Services Project are successfully implemented and that inequalities in the care that children and young people with asthma receive in Wales are addressed.
- Provide access to a school nurse in every school. The development of a family nurse service in Wales closed for consultation at the end of January and one of the key recommendations is that every secondary school in Wales has a school nurse.
- In addition, we’re asking schools to implement the recommendations in Access to Education and Support for Pupils with Medical Needs.
This report, shortly to be launched by the Assembly Government, aims to ensure full access to education for children with medical conditions. We’re asking all 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 help with this Asthma UK Cymru runs Alert to Asthma sessions which train early years carers and teachers in a basic understanding of asthma, its treatment and knowledge of what to do if a child in their care has an asthma attack.
John Mathias, National Director for Asthma UK Cymru 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 59,000 children with asthma in Wales do not “miss out” on their childhood.’
The Welsh Assembly Government has shown support for the issues highlighted in Missing Out report and for Asthma UK’s new fundraising campaign called Putting Asthma in the Limelight which is raising money to help children with asthma. To demonstrate their support, Jeff Cuthbert, Assembly Member for Caerphilly and Chair of the Healthy Living Group, will be sponsoring Asthma UK Cymru to light up the Senedd in lime green on the evening of World Asthma Day. Assembly Members will also be wearing lime green ribbons to show their support.
If you want to help raise money to support children with asthma you can support Asthma UK’s first ever fundraising week ‘Putting Asthma in the Limelight’, which runs until the 10 May, by donating online.