Supporting a student with
type 1 diabetes

School staff play an important role in the lives of students with type 1 diabetes. By supporting a student with diabetes at school, school staff can make a lasting impact on a student’s learning, well-being and health. It’s common for teachers and support staff to feel unsure about how to support a student when they’re living with type 1 diabetes. The Diabetes in Schools program aims to provide school training and education in diabetes management to help school staff feel more confident about helping a student to manage their condition while at school.

Training and support

The Diabetes in Schools training program covers the basics of type 1 diabetes, insulin and glucose monitoring, what to do during lows and highs, physical activity and even how to prepare for a school camp.

All school staff should participate in the Diabetes in Schools introductory level training to get a basic understanding of type 1 diabetes. Designated staff should also complete additional levels of training to be able to support a student’s individual needs.

Role of school staff

Schools and school staff have an important role in ensuring that students with type 1 diabetes experience a supportive and inclusive learning environment. A key aspect of this is ensuring that a student's healthcare needs are accommodated. Helping a student to manage their type 1 diabetes can seem daunting at first, but with the right training and support, school staff can gain the confidence and skills they need to play this important role.

  • Roles and responsibilities

    Schools have a responsibility to provide a supportive environment for all students with a medical condition including students with type 1 diabetes. This may include supporting the student to meet their daily health care needs, including monitoring blood glucose levels and administering insulin.

    Schools are required to make reasonable adjustments to support a student’s diabetes management so they may participate fully in school life and reach their full learning potential. Making reasonable adjustments helps to ensure that students with type 1 diabetes are not disadvantaged or discriminated against in the school environment.

    The Diabetes in Schools program aims to provide all school staff with the necessary training and education to identify and respond appropriately to the signs of low/high glucose levels or when a student with diabetes is unwell. School staff are encouraged to undertake Level 1 Introductory online training provided through the Diabetes in Schools Program to gain a basic understanding of type 1 diabetes and know what to do in an emergency.  >> Read More

  • Diabetes management plan (DMP)

    A student’s diabetes management plan is an essential document that will guide how schools can support students to learn and participate fully in their school experience. It is also a critically important aspect of ensuring the school complies with key legal obligations. >> Read More

    The diabetes management plan will usually be developed by the student’s diabetes treating team in collaboration with the student and family. A student’s diabetes management plan will outline their monitoring, insulin and daily diabetes management needs while at school. The plan should provide schools with clear information about when a student requires supervision or support with key tasks, such as checking their blood glucose or taking their insulin at school. >> Read More

    Diabetes management plans will differ in format and detail depending on the state or territory. In some states, schools are also required to develop a separate school health care plan. These plans do not replace the student’s diabetes management plan but provide more detail about what actions and adjustments a school will put in place to support a student with type 1 diabetes.

    Training available through the Diabetes in Schools Program assists school staff with understanding key aspects of the student’s diabetes management plan and how to implement it effectively in schools. >> Read More

  • Making reasonable adjustments

    Designated staff may play an important role in the school’s agreement to make reasonable adjustments to support the student’s attendance and participation at school. Reasonable adjustments are supportive actions that schools adopt to ensure that they meet the requirements under the Disability Standards for Education and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth).

    Students will have different needs to manage their type 1 diabetes at school. The Disability Standards for Education outlines a number of key factors that a school should consider when determining what reasonable adjustments are required. This requires balancing the interests of all parties affected, and considering all ‘relevant circumstances’, including the impact of the student’s disability – which might include, for example, a student’s inability to self-manage their diabetes. >> Read More

  • Understanding the law

    Schools and school staff are likely to be familiar with the wide range of legal obligations and duties relevant to the school environment. When supporting students with type 1 diabetes, an understanding of relevant legal and policy frameworks may help schools and school staff to discharge these legal obligations and duties.

    The following legal concepts are particularly relevant in relation to students with diabetes in the school setting:

    Poisons and medicines legislation –  Australian poisons legislation outlines a range of requirements in relation to the storage and administration of medicines. In the context of insulin administration for students with diabetes, these laws require: >> Read More

    Consent laws – The consent of a parent or guardian to authorise school staff to provide support to a student with diabetes can help ensure that the physical acts of supporting the student and/or administering insulin are lawful. Compliance with consent laws can be achieved by:

    • Obtaining consent from the student’s parents or carers to allow school staff to provide support and assistance to manage a child’s type 1 diabetes and administer insulin;
    • Keeping a record of the parent’s or carer’s consent form in the diabetes management plan and the school’s health management or action plan (where such documents exist), and retaining a copy of the consent for the school’s records;
    • Ensuring that the consent is specific to what was agreed between the parents or carers and the principal, and details how the student’s diabetes will be managed in the school environment and by whom – and ensure that consent is updated should there be a change in designated staff; and
    • Ensuring that the consent of the parents or carers authorises disclosure of private and confidential information concerning the student’s diabetes and health needs. This may include other parties, including school staff, external agencies (as the Department of Education or the child’s diabetes treating team), and other relevant third parties (such as those providing diabetes education and training to school staff), so far as is reasonable and required for the effective implementation of the diabetes management plan in the school.

    Anti-discrimination law – Schools are likely to be familiar with the Disability Standards for Education and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth), which require schools to make ‘reasonable adjustments’.
    As explained above, there are a range of factors that must be considered when determining whether an adjustment is “reasonable”. School staff who follow the adjustments agreed upon between the school principal (or delegate) and parents or carers, can help schools to ensure that they comply with anti-discrimination law.

    The School’s legal duty of care to students and staff includes the duty to create a safe environment and to take reasonable precautions to avoid exposing students and staff to foreseeable risks of harm. The school’s duty encompasses a ‘non-delegable duty of care’, which means the school has an overarching duty to students, even if specific responsibilities are delegated to particular staff members. In addition and alongside the non-delegable duty of care owed by the school, individual school staff owe a duty of care to students and others in the school environment, which similarly requires that they take reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable harm. These duties work alongside each other and often overlap.

    There are foreseeable risks of harm for students with type 1 diabetes. This requires that the school and school staff take reasonable precautions to protect students and staff against such risks of harm. This can be achieved by the implementation of processes and safeguards by the school to support students with type 1 diabetes, to ensure their safety, as well as for the safety of other students and staff. The designated staff member plays an important role in supporting a student with type 1 diabetes and in helping to maintain their safety in the school environment.

    Good management of a student’s diabetes in the school environment, in the short to medium term, can help to ensure that a student is able to learn and participate at school. Without such management, students may be experience  serious and immediate health complications, such as unconsciousness as a result of very low blood glucose levels. Maintaining a safe system to support students with diabetes in the school environment can help in the discharge of the duty of care by schools and school staff.

    There are a number of key measures that may help the school to ensure that the relevant legal and policy obligations are met. The implementation of these measures is the responsibility of the principal, but it :

    1. Implementing a student’s diabetes management plan – Ensuring that the student’s individual diabetes management plan is effectively implemented in the school setting, and that appropriate measures are in place to enable staff to support the student’s needs, as set out in the student’s plan.
    2. Ensuring that there is access to training and education – Ensuring that all school staff who play a role in supporting the student, are given the opportunity to access appropriate training, so that staff are able to discharge their duty of care to students.
    3. Communication – Communicating with members of the school diabetes team is fundamental so that each party can understand each other’s roles and responsibilities, as well as ensuring that any changes or adjustments to the child’s needs are communicated effectively to school staff, including the designated staff member.

    Appropriate guidance, advice and training is available through the Diabetes in Schools Program .

  • Communication and managing relationships

    Communication is very important when supporting a student with type 1 diabetes.

    Open and consistent communication will help everyone gain a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities in supporting the student with type 1 diabetes.

    It is important that principals, school staff, parents or carers, are able to work together and come to an agreement about what needs to happen at school in terms of supporting a student with type 1 diabetes. This includes the process of implementing the student’s diabetes management plan, making reasonable adjustments, and keeping all parties updated when there are changes.

    While everyone is often trying to do their best to work together, there will be times when differences arise with expectations, roles and responsibilities. In some cases, it may not always be possible to reach agreement.

    Families can give consent for school staff to contact the student’s diabetes treating team. They may be able to offer additional clarification and solutions.

    If there is a disagreement that cannot be resolved between families and schools, it may need to be escalated to more formal mediation processes.

    Most state and territory Departments of Education, Catholic Education Commissions and Independent school associations have formal processes to escalate disagreements between parents and schools. Schools and parents are encouraged to use these existing education-based processes to try to come to agreement on what is needed to support the student.

  • Scenarios

    Find out how to support a student with type 1 diabetes and the different challenges they may face when managing their condition at school.