Outburst on ME

13th July 2001 at 01:00
It is a truism in newspapers that reader reaction is rarely predictable. We may devote endless hours and commit countless columns to the intricacies of curriculum or assessment or funding, but nothing has unleashed such a furore in recent years as the comments by our regular columnist, Pat Sweeney, on the post-viral fatigue condition known as ME. Our letter columns this week (page 2) provide only a flavour of the outrage provoked by his article : there are half a dozen more where they came from - all from England, as a matter of fact.

It goes without saying that neither The TES Scotland nor Pat Sweeney has any intention of setting out to belittle ME sufferers. Nor do we take the sceptical view that those with the condition are common malingerers, simply unable to get out of their beds. People who are suffering from an energy-sapping illness know they are suffering, even if the precise label identifying their distress is often disputed.

Pat Sweeney himself acknowledged that many pupils with ME and other debilitating health problems "are in school day after day and teachers toil to manage their symptoms without knowledge or understanding the source of the condition" (TESS, June 15). Whatever the injudicious phrases which touched raw nerves, Sweeney also accepted in his piece that it would be "simplistic and unhelpful" to link long-term absenteeism from school only with ME.

This episode shows, however, that schools need a clearer understanding of the condition itself and of the way it can impact on pupils. To that end, we plan to run a feature early next term which will attempt to do just that, looking at the condition from the child's point of view, explaining the medical facts and discussing what teachers can do to help.

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