Missing school due to physical health needs
Your child has the right to an education and to the support they need, no matter what their physical health needs.
If your child is too unwell to attend school regularly, they still have these same rights.
What does the law say?
Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and Scottish law, your child has the right to an education. They continue to have this right even if they cannot go to school. Your local authority has a duty to make sure that your child can continue learning while they are absent. This includes if your child is absent for one long period, or if they often miss school for shorter periods.
It applies if your child is off school because of:
- an accident or trauma
- mental health issues
- chronic long-term, life-limiting or life-shortening conditions
- health conditions that mean a lot of time spent in hospital.
It does not apply to children with common childhood illnesses (such as a cold or chickenpox) who would be expected to be back at school quickly.
Your child is considered to have ‘additional support needs’ if they need extra or different help to other children their age, for any reason. This means that your child can get support with their physical health needs at school. The law does not say what this support should look like because it should be based on their individual needs. It is also important to know that your child does not need a diagnosis of a particular health condition to receive support.
Your child’s health needs may also be protected under the Equality Act 2010. This law says that your child should not be put at a disadvantage or discriminated against because of a disability, which can include health needs.
Additional support for learning: Key facts
This factsheet explains the key information you need to know about your child’s rights to additional support for learning.
My child is finding it difficult to attend school. What should I do?
You should first contact your child’s school to let them know. You could share with them the reasons why your child is finding it difficult to attend. Your child’s school should work with you to support your child’s needs.
If your child is off for a long period, or has lots of regular absences, alternative arrangements should be made to help them continue learning. For example, it can be helpful to let your child’s school know about upcoming health appointments. This will give the school time to make plans to support your child’s learning while they are off, or to prepare resources to help your child catch up with any work missed.
How can my child access learning while they are not able to attend school?
Every child’s needs are different, so there are different ways that your child might learn while they are not at school. The education they receive should support a broad, flexible curriculum that builds on their existing learning. It should suit your child’s state of health and where they are (for example, hospital or home). If it’s not clear how long they will be off, education should start as soon as possible. It should be in place after 15 days off in a row, or after 20 days of frequent absences.
Often, your child’s school will take the lead by sending work home or arranging access to online learning. Your child’s school should also have procedures to record the work that they have missed while off and should communicate the details to those who support your child.
Sometimes, school staff will work with the local authority to arrange out-of-school education. Some local authorities have an outreach or interrupted learners’ team who can support your child while they are not at school. There may also be a hospital education team that could work with your child if they will be in hospital for a long time or have a condition that means they are in and out of hospital a lot.
It is important that your views and your child’s views are taken into account when planning their learning. The school and local authority should keep in touch to find out about your child’s health and progress. They should listen to your views and your child’s views about the support they need:
- while they are out of school
- to be able to return to school
- once they are back in school.
When your child is too unwell to attend school
This factsheet explains pupils’ rights to education and support if they are absent from school due to ill health.
What support can my child receive when they return to school?
Your child’s school should work with you and your child to create a support plan that meets their individual needs as they return to school. It may be helpful to share with the school any information or understanding you have about your child’s needs. This is particularly important if their needs have changed since they were last at school.
In some cases it may be helpful for healthcare professionals to assess what support your child will need at school. Sometimes, it can be helpful to write down your child’s support into a healthcare plan. A healthcare professional should decide whether your child needs one. You and your child should be involved in preparing the plan if they need one. If you think your child should have a healthcare plan, speak with your child’s headteacher or a member of their healthcare team.
Day-to-day support for your child’s healthcare needs will likely be the responsibility of school staff. All staff who support your child should receive suitable training.
Depending on your child’s needs, health staff from the NHS Board in your area may also be involved. This could include doctors, nurses, clinical psychologists, speech and language therapists, or occupational therapists.
Your child’s school should not expect you or other family members to provide healthcare support. This should only happen in exceptional circumstances.
My child has planned hospital treatments or appointments coming up. What should I do?
If you know that your child will be out of school a number of times or for a set period in the future, then you should inform their school. Letting their school know as soon as possible means that they can effectively plan their learning around these needs. Planning in advance and keeping in touch about your child’s progress means that they can continue to receive the right support.
For example, if your child has regular hospital appointments, their school might put in place plans to provide them with ways to catch up on work missed, such as access to online copies of classwork, or additional time with a teacher or support staff at a later date.
You can also speak to school about any changes to your child’s support that might be needed as a result of any treatment they’re having, or if they’ll be in recovery for a while. This could include asking for a healthcare plan to be put in place, or for an existing plan to be updated – for example if there is new medication that they’ll need to take.
My child’s needs have changed following an absence, what can I do?
If your child’s needs have changed, for any reason, it is important to let their school know. If they’ve not yet returned to school, it could be good to speak to school before they come back so a plan can be made.
Your child should have support that meets their individual needs. This means that your child’s school should work with you to review and change their support as their needs change.
If you feel that your child’s needs have changed significantly, it may be helpful to arrange a meeting with their school to discuss their support. This could include asking for a healthcare plan to be put in place, or for an existing plan to be updated.
Working together with your child’s school
This factsheet explains how you can have positive conversations with your child’s school or nursery, including advice for attending meetings about your child’s support.
Can my child attend school part-time?
Your child’s school might suggest a part-time timetable as a way of supporting your child to return. Sometimes called a ‘phased return’, this can be an effective way to build up the time your child spends back at school. Your child should only be on a part-time timetable if you agree to it. It is important that everyone listens to your child’s views when making this decision.
A part-time timetable should never be used as a long-term way of meeting your child’s needs. There should be a clear plan and timescale in place for helping your child return to full-time education as soon as they are well enough. This could include working out what adjustments or supports might be needed to help them manage a full school day.
Your child continues to have the same rights to an education as other pupils. This means that your child should be provided with opportunities to continue learning for the times they are not at school.
I’m not happy with the education and support my child is receiving while they are out of school. What can I do?
You should first contact the school to discuss your concerns. You could ask for a meeting with the person responsible for additional support for learning. At the meeting, you could:
- ask how the school feel they are meeting your child’s needs
- share the reasons why you are concerned about your child’s support and education
- ask what different or additional support your child can receive to help them to access learning while they are not at school
- share your child’s views about their support
If they could be ready to return to school, you can also ask to discuss what supports and strategies could help them with this.
If you are not happy with the outcome of the meeting, put your concerns in writing to the head teacher. There are also steps you can take beyond this if you need to. Take a look at our page on Solving problems with school for some advice.