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Children with type 1 diabetes do as well at school, research shows

Primary school children sitting on the carpet in front of a whiteboard as their teacher reads to them

Research from Cardiff University reveals that although children with type 1 diabetes miss more school days, the condition alone doesn’t have a negative impact on their exam results or chances of going to university.

Type 1 diabetes can affect every aspect of a child’s life, and researchers at Cardiff University have now uncovered more about the impact of living with the condition on educational outcomes.

There are more than 28,000 children with type 1 diabetes living in the UK. Every child deserves the same education, experiences and opportunities as their peers. But families may be concerned that more time off school due to medical appointments, or high and low blood sugar levels, could affect their child’s education.

To find out more, researchers led by Dr Rob French tracked school attendance, GCSE results and university entry rates of more than 1,200 children with type 1 diabetes in Wales since 2006. They compared these to around 263,000 children in the same classes who do not have diabetes.

What the researchers discovered

The results revealed that children with type 1 diabetes missed more school – with an average of nine extra days absent days per year – than their classmates without diabetes. Despite this, children with type 1 diabetes did as well in their GCSEs as their classmates and had an equal chance of getting into university.

Professor Colin Dayan of Cardiff University, who worked on the study, said:

This is good news for families with children with type 1 diabetes. I was surprised and impressed by how well the children did in school despite all the challenges they face.”

Findings did, however, also show that children who have higher average blood sugar levels tend to do worse in their exams and have less chance of going to university than those without the condition.

Rather than high blood sugar levels being directly responsible, it’s likely that this link is explained by other factors, such as family support and socioeconomic factors, which are linked with both higher blood sugar levels and poorer educational outcomes.

Dr Rob French of Cardiff University, who led the study, said:

We believe rather that children who have a lot of support at home and around them with their diabetes, also have a lot of support with their school work. We are looking into this further, but our results suggest that family support is critical for not only for education but also for health.”

While this study is encouraging in showing that type 1 diabetes overall does not negatively impact a child's education, the findings do highlight the importance of schools and healthcare professionals working together to make sure all children with type 1 and their families have the support they need to manage the condition, and to thrive.


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