A new survey draws attention to the lack of preparedness for dealing with epilepsy in schools. The survey was presented as part of National Epilepsy Week’s theme of ‘Educational challenges for children and younger people’. Epilepsy Action has also produced information and resources which SENCOs will find useful in advising colleagues.

Children with epilepsy are failing to reach their full potential because of a lack of awareness among teachers of the impact the condition can have on their schoolwork, according to a new survey.* This survey indicates that many teachers lack awareness and confidence in dealing with pupils with this disability. Less than a quarter of primary and secondary school teachers surveyed by the national charity, Epilepsy Action, believed that their awareness and knowledge of the condition was good. Yet almost half acknowledged that epilepsy could greatly affect a child’s educational performance, and a further three-quarters believed that having epilepsy could affect a pupil’s relationship with other pupils. Epilepsy affects an estimated one in 214 children and young people of school age. However, 27% of respondents were not aware or did not know how many of their pupils had epilepsy. Some 74% recognised that all members of staff would benefit from specific training. ‘These figures clearly illustrate the fact that many children with epilepsy are struggling unnecessarily at school while much more could be done to help them,’ said Elizabeth Anderson, education policy and campaign officer for Epilepsy Action. She continues: ‘However, with the right help and support, children with epilepsy can enjoy and achieve at school. It is essential that school staff have the knowledge and understanding to make this happen.’ The survey, based on responses from over 100 primary and nearly 300 secondary schools, showed that only 19% of schools felt that their staff’s level of epilepsy awareness and knowledge was good. Thirteen per cent reported that it was poor or very poor. The results of the national survey came as part of National Epilepsy Week held in May. One of the themes of this year’s event was ‘Educational challenges for children and younger people’. The charity is calling on the government to recognise and address the specific needs of young people with epilepsy in the education system and for all staff to improve their understanding of the condition. In a separate study carried out by the charity among parents of children with epilepsy, more than half said that their child had difficulties completing class work because of their condition. The most common reasons cited for this were concentration difficulties and fatigue, rather than the seizures themselves.

‘If teaching professionals are unaware that a child has epilepsy, or that the condition can affect their learning, then they are not making adequate provision,’ said Elizabeth Anderson. ‘Achieving their full potential should be a reality for every child with epilepsy and it is vital that schools take advantage of the information and training that is available.’ 

Background on epilepsy

  • Epilepsy is the tendency to have recurring seizures.
  • There are around 40 different types of seizure and a person may have more than one type.
  • 456,000 or one in every 131 people in the UK has epilepsy.
  • Epilepsy is the most common serious neurological condition.
  • One in 20 people will have a single seizure at some time in their life.
  • The vast majority of children with epilepsy can take part in the same activities as everyone else, with the help of simple safety measures, where appropriate.
  • For information on basic first aid for seizures, please visit www.epilepsy.org.uk/info/firstaid.html.

Terminology to avoid

  • Illness – epilepsy is a condition, not an illness.
  • Fit – the term ‘seizure’ or ‘epileptic seizure’ is preferred as people with epilepsy do not always experience convulsions.
  • An epileptic – it is important to look at the person before the medical condition, therefore it is more appropriate to say ‘a person with epilepsy’.
  • A victim, sufferer (or similar word depicting someone helpless).
  • Grand mal or petit mal – there are many types of seizures so these terms, previously used to describe types of seizure, are too general and outdated.

Epilepsy Action Epilepsy Action has developed a wealth of resources for education professionals to address the lack of information and provide teachers with all they need to maximise the educational potential of children with epilepsy. These include lesson plans to help teach other children about epilepsy, to reduce stigma and bullying, and the ‘Epilepsy Policy for Schools’, which outlines how a school can best meet the needs of pupils with epilepsy. 

The education resources were launched on a new section of Epilepsy Action’s website, www.epilepsy.org.uk

, during National Epilepsy Week. Aimed at both teachers and parents, the education section includes information on first aid and seizures, and advice on higher education. 

*Epilepsy awareness in education – survey for National Epilepsy Week