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Picking the right school when your child has food allergies

(15 Posts)
SuburbanMomma Thu 31-Jan-13 18:45:50

Does anyone have experience to share? We want to get it right when we apply for Reception.

DS starts Reception in 2014. We are overseas but moving back before then and will be applying in the usual way through our LEA (where we own a property that we will be moving back to). We are visiting in a few months and really it'll be our only chance to look at schools before we apply as we won't be back and it's too far to just pop over for a few days.

We live in an area with many oversubscribed and very highly regarded schools. That's all well and good but that doesn't necessarily mean they will provide a safe environment for our son. The one we are most likely to get into is a large 4 form entry school. Allergies aside, I'm not sure about a school that large but it is, on paper, an outstanding school. Then we have allergies and TBH the thought of at least 120 Reception kids plus Y1 and y2 running around eating break time snacks or sitting eating their packed lunches with only a handful of supervisors sends me into a cold sweat. We do have an alternative option but its private. A school very close to our house which does have experience of children with allergies and has about 15-20 per class (with one class per year group).

DS is allergic to dairy, egg, peanut, mustard and sesame and travels with a set of Epi Pens due to his peanut and sesame allergies. He is currently in a very small pre school where no lunch is served, there is no milk and snacks in his class are provided for the whole class from a list of things that are safe for him. It's above and beyond what we expected but the school are fantastic as are the other parents in his class. But I'm under no illusions that we will get anything close to this when it comes to primary school.

The country we currently live in does take food allergies seriously when it comes to schools (well in our area at least). Food allergies (those properly diagnosed by a specialist and backed up with an emergency action plan signed by them) come under disability discrimination laws and so schools have to make every reasonable effort to accommodate the needs of a child with food allergies. It's not perfect but at least it's recognition. I suspect there is nothing similar in the UK.

So, what have people's experiences been with schools? Is there anything you'd have done differently with hindsight or things you wished you had found out/discussed before applying. Has anyone opted for a small private school as they felt it provided a safer environment?

thanks

babybarrister Thu 31-Jan-13 21:19:09

DS has v similar allergies and carries own epipens. He is in large private school and it is all fine - I had long talks with them beforehand and also took in expired epipens for them to practice with as well as mounds of medical reports so they knew we were not fruitcakes 'self diagnosed'. All schools are going to have small children running around with food - you are going to have to have some detailed conversations to work out who handles it best. Prates reports do have something to say about health and safety but it is all v general ...good lucksmile

babybarrister Thu 31-Jan-13 21:19:41

That should say ofsted reports ....grin

Bessie123 Thu 31-Jan-13 21:22:05

Check out who does the catering at the schools you are looking at. If it is Compass, Sodexo, Caterlink or Holroyd Howe you will probably be ok; they have very strict allergy policies and are very careful.

Bessie123 Thu 31-Jan-13 21:23:49

Btw, I don't think any schools allow nuts on the premises

SuburbanMomma Thu 31-Jan-13 21:24:25

Thanks baby barrister. Did the allergy issue come into your choice of school? Also, what general area of the country are you in?

I know it's not going to be anywhere near as bad as where we live now. A place where kids are constantly eating, where peanut butter is a staple of every child's diet and where schools apparently involve food at any opportunity.

SuburbanMomma Thu 31-Jan-13 21:26:36

Bessie. I'm not a huge fan of places saying they are nut free. Unless they police every item that comes into the school, including for the risk of cross contamination then I really think it leads to a false sense of security. Personally I don't trust parents of Non FA children to decide what is safe and not safe. Nor do I trust teachers or other school workers unless they are well read and properly trained.

Meglet Thu 31-Jan-13 21:35:04

When DS started school one of the nurses from the allergy unit at the hospital went in to speak to all the staff and TA's so they understood what he couldn't eat and how to recognise an allergic reaction and how to use the epi-pens. The catering company (Hampshire) pissed me off a bit as they took a month to sort his dinner menu out so he had to have packed lunches in that time, but once it was done he had a personalised menu and a BIG photo of him in the kitchen so the dinner staff know what he could have.

When they do special cooking activities the teacher grabs me in the morning to let me know and I usually check whatever ingredients they are using. DS's teacher even keeps a special stash of chocolate buttons for him for the days his class mates bring in sweets for birthdays, they nearly always bring haribo which contain kiwi and he's seriously allergic to them.

We've had a blip in the last week as it turned out that since DS added an apple allergy to his list last year they had left him without a snack on days the class had apple. After much fuming from me at home I e-mailed the head (nicely) and they've sorted it so he can have other options. TBH I picked the school as the head is so approachable. It's scary sending a child with allergies to school so the last thing I wanted was a head who I didn't feel I could speak to about any problems.

Bessie123 Thu 31-Jan-13 21:40:59

meglet who does the catering?

Meglet Thu 31-Jan-13 22:17:46

bessie it's HC3S. They're fine with his allergies, it was just a PITA waiting for them to sort it out. Mind you, they won't accept a letter from me about a new allergy, I have to get his GP (who won't have seen the reaction) to scribble out a letter to HC3S before they will change his menu. Obviously being his mother I know bugger all about allergies and fancy changing his diet for a laugh hmm.

The morning fruit snacks are delivered by a different company, which is why he slipped through the net and wasn't offered an alternative to apples.

StillStuck Thu 31-Jan-13 22:51:14

Great idea for a thread, ds is a couple of years off starting school but its something I am already wondering about. He has multiple allergies and even if I send him with packed lunches there are the issues around other foods children bring in.
He is at nursery though and they have been amazing, no issues whatsoever. They even make sure that, wherever possible, his food is an allergy-proofed version of what the other children are having. And they adapt their baking activities so he can join in. I only hope we can find a school half as sensible, as it makes such a difference not just to his safety but also psychologically and socially for him

Ilisten2theradio Fri 01-Feb-13 16:48:59

DS has a diff list of allergies. His are eggs,nuts,fish,sesame and cocoa.
He has always had a packed lunch at school. School is "supposed" to be nut free. They keep the people having school lunches separate from the packed lunches and for packed lunch there is a strict policy of no sharing.

DS has made it all the way through state primary school. He has had several minor reactions ( one was a food activty in class and they were too slow in stopping him eating what he shouldn't. Fortunately he vomited it all up and it wasn't such a serious reaction - but the allergies have become more severe since then, several are unknown and have been later in the day in class - presumably a child not washing hands after lunch and contaminating door handles or some such and one about an hour aftter lunch after wrestling at playtime with other boys on the field - again presumably cross contamination. This last time they had to use and epipen but it worked very quickly and although we had to go to hosital for observation no further treatment was needed).
The schools are always aware of allergies. There are photos in the class and welfare with a list of what they are allergic to. - There are more and more theses days. The teachers are regularly trained in epi-pen use.
You are always going to have some risk.
I guess it depends on how allegic your DS is - ie contact or actual ingestion of the foods that will form your questions about how they keep him safe

SuburbanMomma Fri 01-Feb-13 18:10:08

Ilistentotheradio - I have absolutely no faith that every school is aware of allergies. A lot of people think they know and understand allergies when actually they don't and confuse them with intolerances. That clouds my judgment from the start. So I'm going to need some serious reassurance from firstly the head teacher that they take us seriously. It's great that your school has worked through things with you but I'm pretty sure not all are like that. Plus I want them to understand our allergies not just rely on experience from other children as of course no two allergies are the same and parents do take different approaches with regard to risk.

It shouldn't matter how allergic he is. That's the problem. The last reaction he had to say sesame isn't necessarily a good indicator of how he might react next time so I'd want the school to be vigilant regardless of his history of reactions. That's another common misconception. I have a friend whose daughter accidentally ate something with egg in once and just had hives. It happened again and she had a very serious anaphylactic reaction and had to be resuscitated.

Ilisten2theradio Sat 02-Feb-13 14:28:57

SuburbanMomma,

I understand your concern. It used to worry me to death that school were managing it correctly.
I think the fact that there are so many children in schools with epipens these days mean that the teachers tend to be very aware.

Even in reception DS was very aware of what he couldn't eat. He knew he didn't want an allergic reaction. Although you can never at that age put the responsibilty on the child we would always remind him never to try other peoples food just in case, and he did take this seriously too.

The problem is with the list of allergies you have you will never find a school that will ban them all and so you will have to have the conversation about how they will safeguard your DS and manage that risk. There is also the argument that you shouldn't as you cannot control the rest of the world outside of school too, so you must teach your DS to learn to cope and understand the risks ( yes I know he is little - I mean over time).

My DS at that age sometimes refused to eat in the hall with the other children if the cooked lunches were eating - say fish that he is allergic to. He would smell it and refuse to go in. When this happened he sat on chairs outside the school office where the staff there could keep an eye on him while he ate. They were very understanding about it ( especially as one of the staff in the office has a very allergic child).

Betty5313 Fri 08-Feb-13 19:37:45

we have just chosen a small private school over a large primary for dd. Several reasons, one of which was that we weren't happy that they could deal with her severe intolerance.She has to avoid milk, soy, chickpeas, lentils , yeast and citrus. even a small amount of soy can leave her with stomach cramps and diarrhea for weeks. luckily she tends to vomit after milk so tge ling term effects aren't as bad.

the school said if she had school lunch it would be prepared separately but there wasn't one day on the one month long menu when she could have eaten any of the dishes. if all her friends had school lunch she would have ended up eating and playing separately at lunch time. supervision at lunchtime wasn't strong enough, the nursery children ate wwith the main school and had no extra supervision.

we just felt happier eith a smaller school that the children would all know dd and know about not foodsharing.

our dietitian was wary about how well a large school could/would deal with the issues.

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