In the UK, 40% of children have been diagnosed with an allergy. At Allergy UK we understand that when starting at a new school it can be a very daunting experience for both the child and the parent. Having confidence in the school’s capability to effectively care for your child and their allergy can go a long way toward making the student and their parents feel more prepared for September.
If you have any questions please call, email or web chat with our Helpline. Alternatively, our page on FAQs for parents may have the answer to your question.
Food allergy is common – on average, most school classes in the UK will have one or two children with food allergy. Schools need to consider how to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction, in line with the statutory guidance Supporting pupils at school with medical conditions. Parents need to work with the school in trying to reduce the potential risks:
- Bottles, other drinks and lunch boxes should be clearly labelled with the name of the child for whom they are intended.
- If food is purchased from the school canteen, parents should check the ingredients of foods by speaking directly to the catering manager.
- Many children of primary school age are able to check with staff and read ingredients labels and one way to help your child learn is to take them shopping with you, and ask them to read ingredients labels to spot the foods they are allergic too.
- Food should not be given to food-allergic children in primary schools without parental engagement and permission (e.g. birthday parties, food treats).
- When planning out-of-school activities such as sporting events, excursions (e.g. restaurants and food processing plants), school outings or camps, think early about the catering requirements for food-allergic children, and emergency planning (including access to emergency medication and medical care).
Telling the school about your child’s allergy
Book an appointment to discuss your child’s allergy with the head /class teacher. It is vital you take written and detailed information about their allergy as well as a written management plan. Remember to discuss with teachers any potential allergens, both inside and outside the classroom, such as activity lessons, school trips, games, and physical education.
Talk to your child about allergies
We understand that often for younger children, it may be difficult for them to understand their allergies and how to avoid potential triggers. When your child suffers from allergies, as parents or carers, you can ensure their home is as safe as possible, keeping allergens out of the home as much as possible. When starting a new school, in an unfamiliar environment, this is not always as easy.
Before school starts in September be sure to talk through potential allergy triggers at school, such as not eating or sharing food with a classmate. Along with teaching children to understand what symptoms to expect if they are having an allergic reaction. It is also vital that children with allergies are instructed to tell an adult or teacher immediately if they believe they have been in contact or ingested an allergen.
Once your child has settled in, encourage them to openly talk about their allergies with a close friend and/or teacher, so others in the classroom are aware of what to do if a reaction occurs.
If your child is experiencing anxiety with starting school, download our Factsheet on Childhood allergies: Understanding anxiety.
If your child has a severe allergy, it is essential to provide the school with two Adrenaline-Auto Injectors (AAIs) as well as any other allergy medication your child may need. All medication should be in date and expired ones should be replaced. Medication should be kept with your child at school and not locked away where it is not easily accessible. In an anaphylactic reaction, seconds count. When your child is younger, ask for their medication to be passed between activity to activity if they change classrooms at all.
When your child is old enough, they can carry it with them in their bags. Any teacher or staff member in contact with your child should be trained to use all Adrenaline-Auto Injectors, if this is not currently the case, training will need to be organised/provided. It will also be beneficial to check if the school has spare Adrenaline Auto Injectors on site.
All members of staff who would supervise your child at any time should be aware of the warning signs of an allergic reaction. Download our Anaphylaxis and Severe Allergic Reactions factsheet to share with the school.
The British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI) has produced a range of Allergy Action Plans, which can be used for this purpose, and can be downloaded below.
- Personal plan for individuals prescribed EpiPen
- Personal plan for individuals prescribed Jext
- Personal plan for individuals prescribed Emerade
- A generic plan for individuals assessed as not needing AAI
In 2014, the Children and Families Act 2014 made it a legal duty for schools to make arrangements for pupils with medical conditions – this includes children with food allergies. All pupils with medical conditions – including food allergies – should have an Individual Healthcare Plan agreed between the parents and the school. Where a pupil has been prescribed an adrenaline auto-injector (AAI) for use in an emergency, teachers and other non-healthcare professionals are permitted – but not obligated – to administer an AAI under existing legislation.
In 2017, the law to allow schools to obtain, without a prescription, “spare” AAI devices for use in an emergency, if they so wish. Spare AAIs are in addition to any AAI devices a pupil has been prescribed and bring to school. The spare AAI can be used if the pupil’s own prescribed AAI’s are not immediately available.
The Anaphylaxis Campaign and Allergy UK have worked with the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI) and the Medical Conditions in Schools Alliance, supported by the Department for Education (DfE), to develop this Model Policy for Allergy at School guide. It has been designed to support schools to develop a ‘Gold Standard’ policy to manage children’s allergies safely, so that children and their parents feel reassured that a robust policy is in place. The Model Policy for Allergy at School draws on lessons learnt from Prevention of Future Deaths reports where children have sadly died as a consequence of anaphylaxis while they are at school.
Many parents and schools try to implement a ‘ban’ certain foods (such as nuts) from school premises. However, we do not recommend a ‘no nut policy’ in schools, as it is not possible to guarantee and enforce a nut free zone, as staff cannot monitor all lunches and snacks brought in from home. A free from environment creates a false sense of security and does not safely prepare children for environments where nuts may be present. The school would need to consider other children with different food allergies and it is not practical to restrict them all. Therefore, the school should have procedures in place to minimise risk of reaction via cross contamination.
Schools should make reasonable adjustments for pupils with particular requirements, for example to reflect medical, dietary and cultural needs. The Food Information Regulations 2014 requires all food businesses including school caterers to show the allergen ingredients’ information for the food they serve. This makes it easier for schools to identify the food that pupils with allergies can and cannot eat. More information about food allergies is available in the allergy guidance for schools. Schools should also comply with the requirements for labelling of allergens on prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) food that take effect from October 2021.
During your meeting with the school, discuss what current processes are in place with minimising risk to children with food allergies. You can then raise any concerns you may have and make any suggestions about how your child, and any others with food allergies, can be kept as safe from risk as possible. If you are planning for your child to eat school dinners, you may also want to organise a meeting with the catering team. It may be beneficial to provide the team with a copy of your child’s management plan. In addition, ask if there is a specific member of the catering staff who will help your child each day and give them the required ‘safe’ prepared meal.
It is essential that your child is included in all activities and trips outside the classroom. No students should feel isolated due to having an allergy. School activities such as cookery, art lessons and physical education could all have allergy risks for your child. Be sure to raise any concerns with the school and if it is recommended for your child not to participate, be sure to ask the teacher about alternative activities available to prevent your child from feeling left out.
For student birthdays, arrange for special snacks or birthday treats to be stored in a labelled tin for teachers to bring out when other children are celebrating a birthday. If you are made aware of any birthdays in advance, you may be able to send in your child’s own allergen-free cake. It is important that every trip, from day trips to short breaks are enjoyable for your child without any, or minimal risk of allergic reactions. Ensure all members of staff on the trip are aware of your child’s allergies, medication, and management plans.