Starting secondary school: Saoirse’s experience

Starting secondary school: Saoirse’s experience

  • 11 July 2023
  • News

Around the time children head off to secondary school they’re gaining more responsibility and independence. Some parents and children can feel unsure about what to expect when it comes to managing serious allergies.

Saoirse, 11, started secondary school in September 2022 and shares her experience.

SaoirseSaoirse’s experience

I was very nervous about starting secondary school as my primary school was small. My class only had 30 students, and everyone knew about my allergies. I have anxiety around food because I went into anaphylactic shock after being given an ice cream in a restaurant. The staff said that it was a dairy-free sorbet, but it wasn’t, and I ended up being rushed to hospital in an ambulance. So, it was big step going from a small class to a secondary school with 200 students per year group and around 1000 students in the whole school.

My parents filled in some medical forms and then the school contacted my mum to ask for further details with regards to my allergies. She explained that I am allergic to egg and dairy and that I have had some support from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the past due to anxiety. On transition day I met with my head of year and told her about my allergies. I also spoke to my form tutor about my allergies and the way it makes me feel. I took my antihistamines, inhalers and adrenaline auto-injectors (AAIs) to be kept in reception and I carry inhalers and AAIs in my bag also.

My head of year arranged for me to have a ‘Leave early’ pass so that I don’t have to walk through busy corridors and so that I can go into the canteen before it gets busy. I choose to have packed lunches as it helps me to feel safer but there are also plenty of food options in the school canteen.

Raising awareness

Saoirse ready for schoolNot all students know about my allergies, so this caused some anxiety before I started school, however, my headteacher is really on board with raising awareness of allergies and keeping students safe in school is one of his priorities. I also have supportive friends who made me feel safe.

My parents make regular contact with my school and check the expiry dates on my AAIs. I have my own locker to keep my property away from others but my two AAIs stay with me at all times.

I have been given access to the SEND department so if I am feeling anxious or worried, I can speak to a member of staff there or I can speak to my pastoral mentor who is supportive. He encouraged me to bake an egg-free and dairy-free cake for our school cake competition and has asked me to deliver assemblies raising awareness for anaphylaxis during Anaphylaxis Awareness Week in October.

I have food technology lessons once a fortnight and my teacher makes sure that I have my own space away from other students so there is no risk of cross-contamination. If we are cooking something that makes me feel worried such as a recipe that requires egg, milk and dairy products, I am given the opportunity to go to a different classroom.

My parents have also bought me an allergy card which is the size of a credit card and has my photo on there, my allergies, my emergency contacts and details of what to do in an emergency. I carry this with me in my blazer pocket.

My parents downloaded the Transitioning to Secondary School guidance on the Anaphylaxis UK website and my mum completed the AllergyWise® training course so that if the school asked any questions, she was able to answer them or guide them towards the Anaphylaxis UK website.

My Top Tips

  1. Don’t be afraid to talk to people about your allergies. People sometimes don’t realise how serious allergies can be.
  2. Speak to your head of year/the pastoral team in school and check what you should do if you feel unwell. Where do you need to go and who should you speak to you?
  3. Carry two AAIs with you at all times.
  4. If you feel worried or concerned, don’t be afraid to speak to someone about your feelings.
  5. Raise awareness about anaphylaxis.

If you would like more information on transitioning to secondary school with allergies, download our free guide here.