Food allergies are on the rise and with up to 1 in 13 children having one, most classrooms across the country will need to become allergy aware. Although it can seem daunting if you are sending your child off to school, or if you are a teacher needing to keep them safe, there are lots of simple steps you can take to manage allergies effectively in school.
All teachers and school staff should be trained in the signs of an allergic reaction and how to use an adrenaline injector. This is often included in basic first aid training but it is a good idea to refresh this yearly and especially if a child with food allergies starts at the school. The assigned school nurse is usually able to organise this. If not, talk to Anaphylaxis Campaign or Allergy UK.
Each child should have an individual care plan detailing their allergies, reactions, medication and treatment, alongside their photo and emergency contact details. All staff, especially form teachers and the lunch team, should familiarise themselves with this.
Create an allergy management plan
It is important that schools have a clear allergy management plan in place to reduce risks, keep care consistent and prioritise safety. This is something parents will need to discuss in detail with the school to adapt it accordingly and put any new measures in places. The exact plan may depend on the child's allergies and their severity but it should cover:
Medication storage and management
Lunchtime seating and supervision
Catering, treats and food sharing
Handwashing and limiting cross contamination
Food policies in classrooms, activities and playground
Allergy education and awareness
Give the child confidence
If your child has food allergies, make sure they feel confident talking about them and can communicate any reactions or concerns to teachers. Try to normalise their allergies by making it part of your everyday life at home and talking about why you don't share food or need to read ingredients. Empower them by showing them how to use an adrenaline injector and role play saying 'no' to food.
Help other children understand
Children are very good at keeping their friends safe if they are given the chance. So it is a great idea to educate them about allergies, what to look out for and the steps they can take to help. This may be done through a school wide assembly or classroom activities. Some simple lessons include:
How to spot an allergic reaction and what to do
Why we don't share food
The importance of handwashing
How to keep your friend included
Using glitter to show children how food proteins can easily spread is a fun activity, getting them involved in a free from cooking lesson is good, or talking to them on a more serious note about the dangers of allergy bullying.
Talk to parents
As well as the children, it is a great idea to encourage the other parents to also understand allergies. There can be a lot of misinformation which may lead to parents excluding a child through fear or misunderstanding.
Parents may benefit from a letter home about allergies and what they can do to help, or the school may invite them to an assembly to better understand new policies and ask any questions. You can also talk to them directly when birthday parties or play dates arise.
If the school has a PTA, it is also important that the organisers take allergies into account when organising events, so all children can be safe and included.
Keep communication open
The most essential tool for managing food allergies at school is open communication and ongoing assessments. There will probably be glitches to sort along the way, especially if the school hasn't dealt with allergies before.
If you have any concerns, raise them immediately and if they are not being taken seriously, escalate them to the governors, local council or Ofsted. The more everyone can talk about food allergies and work together, the safer we can keep every child who is dealing with them.