Four in 10 school staff 'don't know how to handle epileptic seizure'

Teachers' lack of awareness about epileptic seizures could have serious – and fatal – consequences, charity warns

Adi Bloom

The charity Young Epilepsy warns that many teachers lack the basic knowledge to help pupils who have a seizure

Four in 10 school staff do not know how to help a pupil who is having an epileptic seizure, new research suggests.

While in most cases, epilepsy is well managed and seizures are controlled, the charity Young Epilepsy warns in its advice to schools that "it is a very serious condition and can be life-threatening".

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Epilepsy – a disorder of the brain that can lead to recurring seizures – affects an estimated 112,000 children and young people across the UK.

The study, commissioned by Young Epilepsy, questioned 600 teachers, support staff and school administrators about their knowledge of the condition.

Helping epileptic pupils

The majority of respondents were unable to recognise key signs of a seizure. And many also wrongly believed that they needed to stop pupils who are having a seizure from swallowing their tongue. 

Many members of staff were not aware of the different types of seizure that a pupil with epilepsy can experience. 

Three-quarters did not know that falling to the ground and standing up again straight away could indicate that a pupil was having a seizure. 

And 55 per cent did not know that experiencing strange tastes and smells could also be a sign of a seizure. Almost a third – 29 per cent – did not recognise that a child who was staring blankly as if daydreaming could also be having a seizure.  

Only 29 per cent knew that they were supposed to time the length of the seizure. And a third said that they would not know when to call for an ambulance. 

Young Epilepsy recommends ringing 999 if a seizure lasts for more than five minutes, or if it is the sufferer’s first seizure. Prolonged seizures could be potentially fatal, the charity said.

Very few of those staff members questioned knew what they were supposed to do during the seizure, either.

Only 17 per cent said that they would protect the sufferer from hazards and 75 per cent had no idea that they needed to cushion an epileptic’s head during a seizure. Both of these measures are considered essential in order to keep the sufferer safe.  

The research, conducted by research company OnePoll, also identifies common misconceptions about epilepsy among school staff. 

Six in 10 wrongly believed that someone having a seizure could swallow their tongue. And 15 per cent mistakenly thought that flashing lights would always trigger an epileptic seizure.

Additional research of 356 young people with epilepsy shows that 37 per cent do not have an individual health care plan at school.

Statutory requirements stipulate that school staff responsible for the welfare of a child with epilepsy should have training to support them and their needs. But two-thirds of staff polled had not had any such training. 

Mark Devlin, chief executive of Young Epilepsy, said: “Children with epilepsy are struggling to have their conditions fully understood by the people who are playing an essential role in their educational and emotional development.”

Young Epilepsy has created an online resource, offering information for anyone working with a pupil with epilepsy. It is available here.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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