Introduction Pupils with learning disabilities find it more challenging to learn than their peers. Due to their complex needs, they also have a greater rate of school absenteeism (1). Attendance is vital for learning new skills (target attendance >95%) (2). We looked at medical reasons for school absenteeism at a special needs school in Camden.
Aims To identify medical reasons for school absenteeism during winter months, with a view to introducing targeted interventions to improve attendance.
Methods Retrospective data collection of absentees from school register between September 2013 to March 2014 and clinical case notes review.
Results Out of 229 primary and secondary pupils attending, we included the ones with attendance <85%. 17% (n = 38) of the pupils had an attendance of <85%. The main diagnoses were varying severity of learning disabilities (41% n = 14), epilepsy (26% n = 9), autism (21% n = 7) and cerebral palsy (12% n = 4). Adolescents (aged 14–19) formed the bulk of the group affected (35%). Illness (unknown 47%, sleep 15%, seizures 9%, others 29%) were the most prevalent reasons (67% n = 19) followed by social factors (21% n = 6) and medical appointments (12% n = 4). No major respiratory illnesses or safeguarding concerns were highlighted in any of the cases. All, except 4 children had named consultants. 73% had medical reviews in date and had their medical needs identified and treated.
Conclusion Illness (type uncertain) was the main reason for absenteeism. Sleep difficulties and poorly controlled seizures were noted frequently. Unclear coding made further evaluation difficult.
Recommendations School attendance should be made an integral part of school medical reviews.
Absenteeism data should be coded clearly to enable identification medical reasons for absenteeism. School should receive notification from local Accident and Emergency departments when a special needs pupil attends. Targeted interventions to improve attendance can then be implemented.
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