The following guidance is taken from Cancer in Schools by Jo Palmer-Tweed. You can download the guide from Tes (bit.ly/CancerResource).
Early interactions between families and the school’s designated contact are particularly important.
Successful strategies include:
• Immediate identification of the appropriate lead contact. This is most successful when it is someone senior who knows the pupil involved well.
• At least initial contact from the headteacher, as this sends a powerful message about how seriously the school is taking its responsibility for inclusion.
• Regular contact from the headteacher. In a large school it may not be practical for a head to be involved in the day-to-day management of support, but parents feel best supported when they have regular contact from their child’s headteacher.
It is worth remembering that when parents or carers first speak to you, it is often very early days in their own journey with cancer. They may still be shocked and getting to grips with exactly what this diagnosis means for their child. Managing your own anxiety as a professional can be a challenge. Therefore, it is critical for staff to understand that it is very hard to say entirely the wrong thing if you follow some simple guidelines:
Simple guidelines for communications with families:
• Listen carefully to what parents are saying.
• Phrases such as, “I’m really sorry to hear that, that must be really tricky for you all,” are helpful.
• Don’t offer trite responses (telling parents that you are sure everything will be OK can be inflammatory).
• Acknowledge that this is difficult for the whole family (don’t forget to ask what you can do to support siblings).
• Offer to do anything you can to help.
• Reassure parents that you will make yourself available to them.
• Clarify how and when the school might contact the family and vice versa.
Share these tips with any staff who will have contact with the parents, as these early interactions set the tone for the continuing relationship with parents, which in turn impacts on the child’s relationship with the school.
Compile a simple set of facts and use them to develop a medical support plan. The DfE documents provide excellent guidance on what should be included in medical support plans. A helpful template and additional guidance can be found at bit.ly/medconschool.
Remember: even when the child is not in school, it is still part of your statutory duty to offer them academic and pastoral support. A helpful chart detailing the steps schools should take to ensure children with medical needs receive the support they need is available free at the website above.
Simple guidelines for maintaining ongoing communication:
• Ask the family what the best way to maintain communication might be.
• Ensure that communication is regularly negotiated so that it meets the needs of the family (many families welcome regular phone calls or meetings, but bear in mind that cancer is an ever-shifting landscape and be prepared to be flexible).
• Consider the guidance from parents and professionals around communication.
• Ask families for feedback on the support you are providing and whether they would like anything else from you.
• Listen carefully to parents’ and children’s concerns and offer practical solutions rather than platitudes.