Kids Health Info

Health conditions chronic illness and school

  • Chronic illness and school

    Beginning school, transitioning to primary or secondary school, or coping with interrupted schooling can be challenging for any child and their family. This can be made more difficult when your child has a health condition. To achieve the best possible educational outcomes, a child with a chronic health condition needs ongoing and coordinated support from their family, school and medical carers.

    Effects of chronic illness on schooling

    When a child is away from school for a long time because they have been in hospital, at home recovering or going to medical appointments, they may find it difficult to:

    • complete learning activities or sit exams
    • maintain academic performance
    • take part in school activities such as sports or excursions
    • maintain school friendships
    • stay confident, positive and motivated.

    How can schools support students with a health condition?

    There needs to be a consistent and ongoing approach to supporting the educational needs of a child with a health condition.

    This can best be achieved if you work very closely with your child's school. It is important to organise a meeting with the school principal to work out the expectations and responsibilities of everyone involved.

    Sharing information

    Decide what and how much information your child would like to share about their condition with school staff, classmates and the wider school community.

    Your child needs adequate care and support at school, but it is also vital to be aware of your child's right to confidentiality and privacy.

    Decide who will be responsible for sharing information with who, in what way, and when.

    Student Health Support Plan

    Discuss with the school how a school-based Student Health Support Plan can be developed. This support plan should outline how your child's condition will affect their ability to attend school. It should also indicate which school staff will be responsible for carrying out certain tasks and what to do in case of emergency.

    The health support plan should be made available to relevant staff (including casual replacement teachers and other staff who have occasional care of your child). The health support plan should be reviewed annually or whenever there is any significant change to your child's condition or treatment.

    Your child's school can read the guidelines which help with developing a health support plan via the  Victorian Government School Reference Guide.

    Maintaining communication

    It's important to regularly inform the school about how your child is coping at home and at school; academically, socially, physically and emotionally. Work with the school to organise:

    • The best method of contact between home, school and hospital (e.g. phone calls, email, a communication book).
    • How school work will be exchanged.

    Many children and young people keep in touch with school and friends via the internet. The Royal Children's Hospital Education Institute provides filtered and monitored wireless internet for children and young people at the hospital. Laptops and notebook computers are available for loan. Children and young people who bring their own wireless enabled laptop can also connect to this network.

    If you have access to a laptop at home or at school it would be useful to bring it to the hospital for your child to use.

    Please contact the Education Institute for help in connecting to the internet at the RCH.

    Making modifications and reasonable adjustments

    Discuss with the school if your child's condition will need:

    • changes to school buildings etc so that your child can have full access to school facilities and activities
    • changes to the uniform, curriculum, work requirements, timetable or subject choices
    • an application for  VCE Special Provision or a modification to the VCAL learning program on behalf of the student.

    Seek extra support

    There are many support services available to help schools effectively support students with a chronic health condition. The school principal is the best person to ask about accessing these services. Some of these are:

    Student support services officers

    It is the school principal's responsibility to employ a student support services officer. Student support services staff visit teachers, education support officers, psychologists, guidance officers, speech pathologists, social workers and other allied health professionals.

    Visiting teacher service

    In Victoria, the Department of Education and Training and the Catholic Education Office provide a Visiting Teacher service. If your child attends an independent school, please contact your child's school principal to discuss additional support.

    Visiting teachers may work with visually, hearing and physically impaired students, as well as students with a chronic health condition. They provide extra educational help, advice and support to school-aged children and young people, their parents, schools and school communities. Your child's school is responsible for applying to the Visiting Teacher service.

    Student welfare coordinators/primary welfare officers/pastoral care coordinators

    All school systems have dedicated staff members who support schools to strengthen a whole-school approach to the wellbeing of students. These staff members oversee the development of tailored programs to meet individual needs, interests and abilities of students who may find ongoing engagement with education challenging.

    Program for Students with Disabilities

    The  Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD) supports the education of students with disabilities and learning needs in Victorian government schools by providing schools with extra resources. This program is specifically for students enrolled in Victorian government schools.

    Your child's school is responsible for applying for the program by completing an educational needs questionnaire which will determine if your child meets one of the following eligibility criteria:

    • physical disability
    • visual impairment
    • severe behaviour disorder
    • hearing impairment
    • intellectual disability
    • autism spectrum disorder
    • severe language disorder with critical educational needs.

    Once a child is accepted into the program for students with disabilities, the school is responsible for organising a student support group. The aims of the student support group are to ensure that shared goals for the student's educational future are developed and to monitor the progress of the student.

    There is a similar program within the Catholic and independent school systems called the Literacy, Numeracy and Special Learning Needs Program.

    Professional development opportunities

    Discuss with your child's school whether they are able to provide school staff with professional development opportunities or information regarding your child's health condition and the implications for schools.


    • A whole-school approach to supporting a student with a chronic illness is important. 
    • Relevant information about the student's condition should be shared with appropriate school staff.
    • Maintain regular communication between the school and family regarding how the student is coping at school and at home.
    • Explore possible sources of additional support.

    For more information

    If you're a parent...

    • Contact your child's school to advise them of your child's health condition.
    • Work with the school to develop a plan to support your child's ongoing learning and connection to school.
    • Establish a key contact person at the school and keep them informed about your child's health and progress.

    If you're a student...

    • Stay in touch with friends and school staff through visits, phone calls, email and online.
    • Give your teachers relevant information so they can shape your school work to take your health into account.
    • Access your schoolwork from your teachers by email or delivery of hard-copy work.

    If you're a teacher…

    • Keep in contact with your student and their parents/carer.
    • Modify but maintain a structured academic program for your student.
    • Determine a way to exchange schoolwork with your student during their school absence/s.
    • Access the support of other school staff such as student welfare and integration coordinators.

    Where else can I get help?

    Further information and support

    Department of Education and Training
    Catholic EducationOffice (CEO) Melbourne
    Catholic Education Office Ballarat
    Catholic Education Office Sale
    Catholic Education Office Sandhurst
    Independent Schools Victoria (ISV)

    The content for this fact sheet has been contributed to by the Royal Children's Hospital Education Institute. First published in May 2007. Updated November 2010

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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.