Education quandary

'I am a new teacher with a child in my class who has epilepsy. He recently had a fit in assembly. Now, I'm petrified that this will happen again when there is only me in the classroom to cope with it'
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The Independent Online

HILARY'S ADVICE

Hilary's advice

It's time to grow up and accept the whole range of responsibilities that come with your new job. After all, all kinds of things can happen when you are in charge of nearly 30 children. And while it might be distressing for you to watch an epileptic fit, think how much worse it must be for the pupil who has it. For his sake, and for the sake of all the children in your class, you need to be calm and in control about his condition, and the best way to do that is to make sure you are well-prepared. In fact, every teacher ought to know how to deal with epilepsy, since it is something suffered by more than one person in 200 in the UK, and a child's first fit could always occur in the classroom.

Elizabeth Holmes, author of The Newly Qualified Teacher's Handbook, advises the following procedure: "Call for assistance by sending a pupil to the school office. A qualified first-aider should be able to assist you and will call for an ambulance if necessary. Do not restrict his airway in any way during the seizure, ensure that he is safe from dangerous objects such as the corners of furniture, and, if possible, lie him on his side.

"It's important that the rest of the class are occupied. Another teacher or assistant may be able to take them to a different area, or at least stop them from staring, to protect the dignity of the sufferer, because it is fairly common for incontinence to occur during a fit.

"Watch closely for changes of colour and for choking, and talk to the boy reassuringly throughout the seizure and afterwards, because this is known to ease anxiety. He will probably need to sleep or rest at home for the rest of the day. And remember that his parents will probably want to know when the fit took place, and exactly what happened, so write down the details as soon as possible, and make the information available to the child's carers."

The DfES recommends that there should be qualified first-aiders in schools for staff, pupils and visitors, although health and safety regulations only require employers to have them to help employees. However, Elizabeth Holmes points out that teachers shouldn't have to worry about legal consequences to first-aid given in good faith, because they are covered by the 1989 Children Act.

Readers' advice

You may be new, but you are a teacher, and education is the answer to your anxieties. Deal with these soon, not only so that you are confident in the event of another seizure, but also so that you can provide calm, friendly support for your pupil, and reduce anxiety for him, his parents and his classmates. Several charities provide information, such as the National Society for Epilepsy ( www.epilepsynse.org.uk; 01494 601300). Also, talk to your pupil and his parents. What advice have they been given? If you still have concerns, ask whether they have a specialist, and whether you can contact them, or their neurologist or GP. Sue Sandle GP, Suffolk

Things are always worse when you anticipate them, than when they happen. We teachers have to cope with all sorts of emergencies in class, and most of us find that, when they happen, we go on autopilot and move quickly to do the right thing. Afterwards, of course, our legs give way and we need a stiff drink! Annie Kilmartin, Edinburgh

There is a wealth of information available. Epilepsy Action produces booklets and videos, and offers up-to-date information on www.epilepsy.org.uk. We also run teacher-training days throughout the year. For, details phone our free helpline: 0808 800 5050.

Next week's quandary

'My son is taking his GCSEs at a London independent school. He is very happy there, and doing well, and wants to stay on to do his A-levels, but he also wants to go to a good university, so should we be thinking of switching him to a state school or sixth-form college to improve his chances?'

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 17 March, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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