Supporting ākonga with health conditions
This guidance helps early learning services and schools embrace and support ākonga (learners) with health conditions. It sets the scene for you to do so in ways that keep them safe, enrich their hauora and nurture their continued growth and learning.
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Use this guidance to inform your policies and protocols around inclusion, food, medications, health and wellbeing, and keeping ākonga safe.
Use this guidance to help set up a healthy and safe environment for ākonga who may have been diagnosed with a health condition, for example, severe asthma, severe allergies, cancer, brain injury.
You’ll find useful links to information about the various health conditions you might commonly come across. Use these links to help you put together your own material or visual resources.
We’ve included some strategies for teachers to support attention, executive functioning, managing fatigue. While every learner’s response to and experience of a health condition is different, these strategies might be helpful.
For school boards, this information will help you meet your obligations under the Education and Training Act 2020 to ensure the school is a physically and emotionally safe place for all students and staff, take all reasonable steps to eliminate racism, stigma and bullying, and ensure the school is inclusive of, and caters for students with differing needs.
- What to do in an emergency
- ECE and school policies
- Health plans
- Understanding the various health conditions
- Strategies for supporting ākonga with health conditions
- Managing medications and equipment
- Setting up for a return to ECE or school after diagnosis
- Health and wellbeing supports(external link)
Download template: Contacting emergency services [DOCX, 80 KB]
Not all ākonga with health conditions will have or need a health or individual education plan. Most can be supported through good health and wellbeing policies and practices that create a safe, caring and supportive learning culture for all ākonga. Check that your health and wellbeing policies have the following elements covered off.
Inclusive, welcoming and supportive environments for all learners.
- Inclusive and cultural values shape protocols and expectations.
- Safety and wellbeing principles and expectations (eg looking after ourselves and others, no bullying, staying within the grounds) are well communicated to staff, ākonga and whānau.
- Mana whenua are available, where appropriate to support hauora and identity.
- Counselling services and whānau ora mental health support is available to ākonga.
- Environmental safety has been considered and planned for (eg temperature, air quality, reducing allergens, expectations around food, how you’ll manage viruses, mental health and wellbeing support, physical safety, times when cleaning and lawn mowing occur).
Good enrolment procedures, record keeping and reviews.
- Welcoming and enrolment procedures seek information about hauora, health and wellbeing.
- There are health-related risk and incident registers, and these are reviewed regularly.
Clear procedures for handling emergencies.
- Emergency kits are available and all staff know where they are.
- Emergency procedures are clear and communicated to staff.
- Relevant staff are given emergency and first aid training.
Clear policies and procedures for:
- whānau agreement for administering medications, sharing details, communicating with staff, ākonga and other parents about health conditions
- handling, storing, administering and disposing of medication
- service/school owned medication, such as Epipens (early learning services and schools are permitted to purchase their own Epipens)
- staff training in administering medications, using medical equipment, understanding health conditions, adapting classroom practices, supporting whānau ora, teaching about health conditions and health management
- food safety
- information sharing, privacy, storing medical records and who has access to these
- informing parents of an incident or concern
- education/trips outside the classroom or early learning service
- curriculum-based learning about health conditions.
Download template: Staff training plan [DOCX, 80 KB]
Download template: Information sharing plan [DOCX, 81 KB]
For learners who do need a detailed plan, this will usually be developed by a health professional with the learner and their whānau. Learners might have a plan if:
- their condition could be life threatening
- their condition could require them to be hospitalised
- they regularly need medication to be administered
- they need regular monitoring
- their learning environment needs regular control/adaptation
- their activities need to be managed or restricted
- they have been absent because of their health condition.
Rather than having multiple plans, work with ākonga, whānau and their health professional so that everyone agrees and records in one plan what’s needed for wellbeing and safety in your service or school. Consider:
- an understanding of the learner and their condition
- what constitutes an emergency and what to do in an emergency
- medications – what medications and when they’re taken
- contact numbers for parent/s, caregivers and health professionals
- agreement on how you’ll communicate and connect with each other, and how often
- any restrictions on activities
- what you need to know for any trips or excursions
- when the plan will be reviewed.
Discuss what the school and teacher/s can wrap around the health plan to support continued learning and growth.
If you have a learner who is receiving the School High Health Needs Fund from the Ministry of Education, the Ministry will require you to have an individual plan to support them at school.
Read: Action plan for anaphylaxis(external link) (NOTE: every person diagnosed with food allergy/risk of anaphylaxis should have one of these plans, signed by their doctor, along with a prescription for an EpiPen.)
Visit the KidsHealth website(external link) for a wealth of information about various health conditions you might come across. You can also find useful information in the links below.
Allergy NZ’s Allergy and Anaphylaxis Guidelines and ASCIA action plan(external link) and Managing allergies in education settings(external link). Includes emergency information and how to use an Epipen.
Asthma and Respiratory Foundation’s Teachers Asthma Toolkit(external link) and emergency posters include information on using inhalers and teaching about asthma in the classroom.
Cystic Fibrosis (external link)guide for schools and teachers.
Diabetes day to day management(external link) on the Diabetes New Zealand website.
Epilepsy New Zealand’s Epilepsy and Teaching(external link) web pages.
Ministry of Health information about Long COVID(external link).
Starship’s diabetes management plans(external link) for early learning services and schools.
Every learner’s response to and experience of a health condition is different. The impact on a learner’s hauora and learning will depend on many factors, and will change over time. They may make leaps and experience set-backs. Observe them closely and unobtrusively. Check in often. Hold positive and realistic expectations, gently supporting their participation and learning in ways that work for them. Support them to manage their own health condition (where appropriate) and to work towards being as independent as possible.
(Early learning services, please refer to licensing criterion HS28. This provides instructions for managing and administering medications.)
Agree with ākonga and their whānau a plan for:
- storing medications in accordance with product instructions
- when medications need to be taken
- labelling medication with the learner’s name, expiry date and written instructions for dosage, frequency etc
- who can administer medication, in what dose and what times of day, and who supervises self-administration if appropriate
- where records will be kept
- where medication will be kept/where the learner keeps their own medication
- logging when medications are taken/administered
- informing whānau when medications have had to be administered outside of agreed times
- an emergency plan
- getting replacement medication and how to dispose of out-of-date medication
- wearing a medic-alert bracelet
- safely disposing of needles
- supervising trips
- privacy needs
- permission to administer emergency procedures, including administering medication (eg inhaler, Epipen, glucagon injections)
- contact tree for emergencies
- staff training in using equipment such as inhalers, Epipens, injectors.
Download template: Parent and staff agreement to administer medication [DOCX, 82 KB]
Download template: Agreement for self-administering medication [DOCX, 80 KB]
When ākonga return to the service or school after a health incident, diagnosis or hospitalisation, talk with them and their whānau about:
- tikanga or protocols – how they would like to be welcomed back
- mihi whakatau and if they’d like someone to come with them on their first day back
- having a central contact person at the service or school
- what treatment they’re having, what medications they’re taking, when and how they’re administered
- what they would and wouldn’t like others to know
- limitations on activities and expected impacts on learning
- what understanding the learner has of their condition and its treatment
- what constitutes an emergency
- freedoms and limitations
- potential triggers and what to avoid
- what to do in an emergency
- how to communicate between home and the service or school
- how to prepare ākonga to answer questions, ask for help, manage feelings, manage energy, communicate needs, ask to be excused from class, manage social interactions, feel safe.
Epilepsy NZ suggest questions to ask of a child(external link) that has Epilepsy.
Child Cancer Foundation’s back to school guide(external link) page 16 has questions to ask when ākonga are returning to an early learning service or school after cancer treatment.
The Ministry of Education can provide support for high health needs through the School High Health Needs Fund(external link).
Regional Health Schools(external link) provide community, in-home and hospital-based teaching to school-aged ākonga who are too unwell to attend their regular school. They’ll also work with you to support transition of ākonga on their rolls back into school.
Te Kura, The Correspondence School(external link) provides mostly online personalised learning programmes and courses for ākonga from early childhood through to NCEA Level 3.
Condition-specific support and advocacy groups can provide information and advice for staff and whānau, training for staff, useful teaching materials, or talks for ākonga.
Health providers and some community groups offer advice, education and training, and may do visits and talks. These include school nurses(external link), nurse practitioners, diabetes nurses, a GP or paediatrician.
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