What to expect of a young person returning after an extended absence

  • There may be fluctuating periods of wellness and illness when a young person returns to school after an extended absence as a result of managing a health condition. You’ll probably notice some changes in their academic performance and behaviour. Flexibility, patience, sensitivity, routine, repetition, rest and consistency are particularly important for these students.

    You may notice some changes

    Some possible changes include:

    • reduced concentration
    • learning difficulties
    • fatigue
    • behavioural changes
    • changes in peer relationships
    • changes in body image such as hair loss or weight changes.

    Be aware of their fears

    During this transition period, young people are often worried about issues such as:

    • being left out or rejected
    • keeping up with work
    • being bullied or teased
    • fitting in with other classmates
    • relapsing or returning to hospital.

    Make time to talk to the young person about their needs and concerns in relation to both their illness and returning to school.

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    Manage expectations about academic progress

    Serious illness and long absences from school are likely to have an impact on a young person’s academic performance. There will be gaps in learning and potentially less energy, confidence and motivation.

    Many young people will feel like they need to ‘catch-up’ as quickly as possible because they have ‘fallen behind'. It’s important to talk to the young person and their family about clear and realistic expectations.

    Stay open to negotiation

    What works really well for young people returning to school after a long absence is flexibility. Suggest shorter school days and a flexible schedule so their medical needs can fit with their regular timetable.

    Reconsider your expectations

    You might need to modify your usual approach as the young person transitions back into the school environment. For example:

    • increase time limits in tests or exams
    • negotiate timelines for assignments and projects
    • modify learning and assessment tasks
    • revise the number or types of subjects taken by the student
    • allow food and drinks in the class, if a young person’s appetite is affected as a result of their health condition.

    Allow extra time

    Some young people returning to school after an extended absence may need extra time to attend to medical and personal routines or to move between classrooms.

    Provide time out

    Sometimes your student will need some quiet time. Develop a process and a space for some time out. For example:

    • arrange short periods of work with frequent breaks
    • use puzzles or word games as a relaxing activity between learning sessions
    • devise a signal for when your student is not feeling well and needs to take a break
    • create a classroom space for the young person to rest such as a beanbag in the reading area
    • provide a headset/allow the student to bring in a headset so they can listen to relaxing music.

    Investigate options for extra support

    A young person may be able to apply for additional funding through programs such as the Program for Students with Disabilities or the Literacy, Numeracy and Special Needs Program. Eligibility depends on the nature of their physical or cognitive difficulties.

    Tutoring programs such as the Ronald McDonald Learning Program and scholarships and education grants are available to some young people affected by serious illness through Ronald McDonald House Charities, Red Kite and Challenge.

    Develop a Student Health Support Plan and an Individual Learning Plan

    A Student Health Support Plan includes information about the impact of the young person’s health condition on their academic progress. Regularly review the plan to support your student’s ongoing educational needs.

    An Individual Learning Plan will allow you to personalise teaching and learning for a student returning to school. Involve the young person in the creation of their learning goals and Individual Learning Plan to help them track their own learning progress.

    More information

    The Department of Education and Training Health and Wellbeing website has lots of information and resources to assist schools to support the health and wellbeing needs of their students.

    The Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD) provides additional support for eligible students with disabilities in regular and specialist government schools.

    The Literacy, Numeracy and Special Learning Needs Program provides additional support for eligible students in Catholic schools to improve the learning outcomes of educationally disadvantaged students, including students with disabilities.

    The Literacy, Numeracy and Special Learning Needs Program and the State Support Services Program provide additional support for eligible students in independent schools.

    Outcomes for Victoria’s Children has information and data on how Victoria’s young people are faring that can be used by schools to inform and improve student support services.