Education of children unable to attend school due to ill health: guidance

Guidance for education authorities.


1. The purpose of this guidance is to provide advice and information for education authorities in relation to their statutory duty, under section 14 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 [1] , to make special arrangements for pupils to receive education elsewhere than at an educational establishment, where they are satisfied that they are unable, or it would be unreasonable to expect them, to attend a suitable educational establishment as a result of their prolonged ill health (see Annex A). However, the guidance may also be of interest and relevance to independent schools, health professionals, parents and children and young people themselves. This guidance replaces Circular 5/2001 - Guidance on education of children absent from school through ill health.

2. The obligation on education authorities to make such special arrangements applies in relation to a person of any age for whom education is or is required to be provided under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. [2] By virtue of section 1(1A) of this Act, this obligation extends to making special arrangements for those entitled to early learning and childcare [3] (' ELCC') but only to the extent required by section 47(1) [4] of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. However, this does not extend to those young people who have left school and as such are no longer the responsibility of the education authority.

3. It applies to those children and young people where their learning is interrupted due to prolonged ill health for a range of reasons such as accidents or trauma, chronic, long term, life limiting or terminal conditions, mental health issues [5] , and conditions which require repeated medical intervention, such as dialysis. This list is illustrative, not exhaustive. Common childhood conditions such as colds, influenza, chicken-pox etc., where prompt return to school is expected, will not normally be covered by this guidance.

4. Children and young people may be absent from school for a single, extended block of time or for several or many periods of time of varying length. They may also be attending school part-time, as part of a planned, gradual re-integration at school or ELCC, following a period of absence due to ill health.

5. A child or young person absent from school through ill health may receive treatment in a variety of settings, such as a paediatric hospital, an adult hospital, a mental health facility, their own home or in a different school. In some cases, this may mean that the child or young person travels to a hospital which is located beyond the local authority area in which they live or in which they are educated. Education may be provided in any and all of these settings and the responsibility for doing so remains with the child or young person's home authority, even if the services are delivered by specialist outreach services of the local authority in which the hospital is located (host authority) (see paragraphs 30, 31 and 32).

6. Legislation requires local authorities to make special arrangements for children absent from school through ill health 'without undue delay' [6] . The main emphasis in the initial period of absence for children or young people with ill-health will be on recovery of the child or young person's fitness and health and the time required for this will vary. However, wherever possible, absence should not lead to a reduction of education which would have a detrimental effect. Where a child or young person's illness is known, or reasonably thought, to be likely to extend to or beyond 5 days, then education should proceed immediately, if medical assessment permits. This is of particular importance for children and young people who require recurrent admission to hospital, even for relatively short periods. Where there is less certainty over the possible length of any absence, education outwith school should commence at the earliest opportunity and certainly no more than 15 working days of continuous or 20 working days of intermittent absence. The ambition is to continue education wherever possible, but recognising the practical limitations of provision of education within a hospital setting.

7. Similarly, where children or young people who have been in hospital and are discharged to go home to continue treatment or to recuperate, the arrangements for their learning should also be considered by the home authority if the total period of absence is likely to extend beyond 15 days.

8. Further, in the circumstances where an education authority have granted a pupil exemption from the obligation to attend school [7] , to enable the pupil to give assistance at home due to the illness or infirmity of a member of their family, the education authority must so far as reasonably practicable and without undue delay make special arrangements for the pupil to receive education elsewhere than at an educational establishment [8] .


Back to top