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Education Institute

When a student returns

  • There may be fluctuating periods of wellness and illness when a young person returns to school after an extended absence. Educators will probably notice some changes in the young person's learning behaviours and social interactions. Help students to navigate these changes by being open-minded and encouraging in your approach. Monitor students closely and offer extra support throughout their transition between hospital, home and school.   

    Social and emotional changes 

    Fitting in with friends and peers is a key concern for most young people. Many students experience worry and anxiety about how their peers and friends will respond when they return to school after a long time away. Discuss these worries with your students before their return and offer support strategies during their transition.

    Challenges students may face on their return to school or kindergarten include:

    • feeling different or socially disconnected
    • reduced self-esteem 
    • feeling self-conscious about appearance, disabilities or physical changes 
    • coping with changes to friendships or social groups 
    • coping with bullying, teasing or unwanted comments from peers
    • coping with interactions on social media  
    • changes to communication skills 
    • reduced capacity to read social cues 
    • difficulty regulating emotions and behaviour 
    • feeling overwhelmed by social activities or interactions.

    Changes to learning 

    It is normal to notice changes in a student's learning behaviours or academic performance during and after a period of illness. Cognitive fatigue, difficulty with memory and reduced concentration are common side effects of many treatments. This can be frustrating for students so it is important to provide encouragement and practical support as they readjust to their classroom environment. 

    Changes that may present when a student returns to your classroom include:

    • gaps in learning due to long periods of absence or sporadic attendance
    • reduced confidence in learning 
    • loss of independent learning skills
    • reduced motivation 
    • changes to verbal and non-verbal communication skills 
    • cognitive fatigue and physical fatigue 
    • difficulty with memory, concentration and information processing 
    • difficulty with time management and organisation 
    • working slowly and not keeping up 
    • reduced ability to manage homework and assessment tasks 
    • reduced ability to process written materials 
    • reduced ability to cope with stress
    • changes to vision, hearing and speech. 

    Physical changes 

    Educators should be aware of the physical changes or challenges that may present for students as a result of their health condition or treatment. Work with the student, their family and other professionals to ensure that they recieve appropriate support when returning to school. 

    Physical changes could include:

    • changes to physical appearance 
    • physical disability
    • changes to mobility 
    • vision or hearing loss 
    • physical fatigue 
    • increased risk of injury
    • weakened immunity to infectious diseases 
    • ongoing management of new medications or treatment regimes
    • need for assistance with daily cares. 


    Health conditions can have a long term effect on a student's capacity to attend school regularly. Monitor attendance closely and work with families to ensure the student's engagement can be as consistent as possible. 

    Barriers to attendance might include:

    • ongoing interruptions to attendance due to appointments, check-ups and fluctuating health 
    • a weakened immune system and risk of infection 
    • inability to attend full-time due to fatigue or ongoing treatment 
    • the need for a gradual return to school 
    • avoidance of some subjects / activities
    • anxiety about attending school 
    • school refusal or avoidance.