If your coeliac (celiac) or gluten free child is of school age, then they will spend around 30 hours a week learning, playing and exploring with their friends, away from you and your watchful gluten free eye!
Clearly, your concern is that you don’t want your child to ingest anything at school that contains gluten, so this includes everything from their school dinner to the party cake or chocolate that another child has brought in to share with their classmates, and with a class of up to 30 children, this is likely to happen on a regular basis. Your other predicament is that you don’t want your child to be singled out, or to feel any different from the other children, so what do you do?
Communication is key. As a start, make an appointment with your child’s Headteacher, as they are the one with the ultimate responsibility for your child at school. With 1 in 100 people in the UK known to be coeliac, it is likely your child isn’t the first coeliac case they have had to deal with and understand the severity of being glutened and how it should be managed.
Freya’s situation with school has been dealt with in a brilliant way. In fact, her class teacher actually recognised the initial symptoms in Freya as her own child, is also coeliac. In Freya’s case, at the initial meeting, the teacher was able to advise on how their particular school handles special dietary requirements and outlined the communications process across all staff areas including playground assistants, school lunch supervisors, chefs, teachers etc. Freya’s Mum also spoke directly to the chef to discuss Freya’s like and dislikes, which was incredibly supportive.
We’re sure all schools are accommodating, but just so you know you are supported by the Law on this. Section 100 of the Children and Families Act 2014 states that schools in England must make arrangements to support pupils with medical conditions at school.
Depending on the relationship you have with your child’s class teacher, it might be fun to organise for a 10 minute session to be held with the class around coeliac (celiac) disease, which could be done in a fun and informative way such as sticking stickers on products that contain gluten. This will help all the children to learn and to recognise the importance of not swapping treats in their lunch boxes, which can be very tempting!
Making as many people at school including other children’s parents, really clear on the adverse effects of being glutened is super important. At the same time, your child won’t want to be singled out as ‘different’ especially when going on a school trip for example. But good planning ahead will address this. Talk to the teacher in advance about the catering arrangements for the trip as the last thing you want is for your child to be excluded from lunch. And to cover all bases, it might be wise to give the location a call and speak to the chef on site about the needs of your child. Alternatively, if you’re required to send a packed lunch, then just remind the teacher to make sure no ‘swapsies’ are occurring!
At Freya’s school, she wears a wristband so dinner ladies and chef know of her condition and even if she really really (no but really!) wants burger and chips, she can’t have ‘those’ ones, but they could make her up a special version. We guess that wearing a wristband is pretty commonplace, but we’re not teachers, so don’t actually know for sure. If it isn’t something your school currently does, then why not suggest it?
As there is likely to be at at least one birthday a week in the average class size, it might be a good idea to be pre-prepared by having a stash of gluten free treats in the classroom, depending on whether your child’s class teacher has room to store them. In an ideal situation, when a cake or sweets containing gluten is brought in, the class teacher can bring out a gluten free treat for your child, so that they don’t feel excluded and different.
And finally, the other challenge when your child is at school are cookery and food technology classes, and for smaller children, play time. It might not strike you as obvious, but play doh includes gluten and we all know little ones just love putting things in their mouth! So if your child is of the age where play doh is part of their play time, then they will need to be supplied with a gluten free version. Once again, with pre-planning, there is no reason why your child should not take part in all activities with their classmates, the school just needs to support you in keeping them safe.