‘Teaching teenagers with chronic illnesses’

SNJ's lovely PA, Charlotte, has reviewed a copy of a very useful book(let) for that advises and informs schools who have a child with a chronic illness how best to care for them. Schools will need to, of course, adhere to the new Guidance for Children with Medical Conditions but this booklet contains lots of information beyond the statutory advice.


Teaching teenagers with chronic illnesses: A secondary teacher's guide is a guide for teachers regarding all aspects of teaching a child/young person with a chronic illness. It highlights important areas such as the impact of the illness on the young person in terms of physical, psychological, social and developmental effects, as well as what can be done by the school and in the classroom.

Additionally, there are testimonies from chronically ill students and useful insight and advice from students themselves specifically aimed at helping the teacher understand the student’s experience. The term ‘invisible’ is used frequently in the book and the problem with so-called invisible illness is that these students are often easy to forget about, but that is not to say their needs are less than those with more obvious difficulties.

This book will not only appeal to teachers who want to be given advice on how to handle any specific situations they find themselves having to deal with but may lack experience, but also those who regularly deal with  SEN concerns and behaviour challenges.

What I found powerful was the use of young people’s own experiences – usually negative – in the hope that other chronically ill young people will have better experiences within the education system. These testimonies from young people on the receiving end of education should hopefully prompt teachers to reflect on how they currently work and to gain a greater interest in helping children and young people with chronic conditions.

The author, Jenny Ollerenshaw, is herself a teacher and the parent of a child with a chronic illness. She admits she would have been a much more supportive teacher had she known this information beforehand. One 18-year-old student with Eosinophilic Colitis gives valuable insight into the topic of humility. It is imperative that teachers listen and empathise with the young person in question.

The author has clearly taken into the student's perspective into account, as the next section is based on the information that the teacher needs to know. This part of the booklet includes strong, helpful advice for them, which is also supported by figures and a range of examples. It’s very informative and fills in the gaps in knowledge they may have as far as SEN and CI’s are concerned.

I found that the large quantity of text and at times, complicated terminology may cause teachers or any regular reader to start to skim read, which is what I began to do at this point of the book. In order to overcome this issue, it might be better to separate the sections or perhaps use more visual presentation to give the reader a break between the sudden influx of facts or even more bullet points. However, I do like the idea of having a box entitled ‘key message’ after each sub topic, this reiterates the principal idea and the most important piece of information to take away from that particular section.

One concern which may strike the reader is the overuse of the word ‘invisible’; this word can be misleading and could be perceived as patronising at some points in the text. In fact invisible isn’t always the case when you see a child actually in pain or unable to take part in sports through chronic fatigue, for example.

Another improvement I would suggest would be to emphasise the importance of getting to know the student and the importance of building individual relationships. This seems to be missed and would be a very useful section to be included within the ‘impact of a chronic illness on a young person’ section. As a recent A-level and soon-to-be university student myself, I think getting to know the student will make them feel more comfortable in their chosen learning environment, as well as making them feel more included. Hopefully the steps taken will then be reflected in their learning and academic progress.

The section about ‘depressive symptoms, low mood and anxiety’ is useful & easy to comprehend. However, despite the symptoms of anxiety and depression being highlighted with the support of some interesting figures, I think that some concrete strategies for these illnesses might be an improvement. While I think using bullet points is a good way to set out key facts, I would have liked to see the use of mind maps and flowcharts. They will also separate the facts; it may be better to comprehend, especially for professionals with a lot of other work related reading to plough through.

Overall, the book is very informative and the shining aspect of it, in my opinion, is the advice from the students and their sides of the story. It will be very useful for teachers to be able to understand how the young person is feeling and what they would prefer the teacher to be doing in order to provide “a gold standard of support”.

Find the book on Amazon UK here

Charlotte Colley
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