What schools and further education settings can do

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses. If identified early, schools can help young people get the help they need.

If you are at all concerned about a child or young person, you should always speak to your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority. They will be able to advise on suitable next steps, and speaking to them about any concerns should always be the first action you take, ahead of any of the suggestions on this page.

Although the suggestions on this page are broadly split into primary and secondary age groups, the majority of the advice can be applicable for all ages. All children and young people are different, and it’s important to understand the needs of the individual child and young person when looking for ways to support their mental health and wellbeing.

What primary schools can do

While eating disorders are relatively rare in primary school children, there are still things that schools can do to protect against their impact.

Develop children’s social and emotional skills

Helping children understand and recognise thoughts and feelings, helping them develop effective coping strategies, and promoting self-esteem and resilience. Like self-harming, eating disorders can often be a survival strategy in the face of overwhelming emotions and difficulties – so teaching effective ways of dealing with thoughts and feelings from early on is important.

Teach about physical health

Through high-quality health and wellbeing education, teach children about the characteristics of physical health – the importance of healthy eating, physical exercise and sleep, and how this links to mental health.

Teach about body image

Through health and wellbeing education, teach children to be happy with who they are and to celebrate diversity and difference. It is also important to help children develop skills to recognise when they are being sold idealised images or misleading advertising images.

What secondary schools and further education settings can do

Be alert to early signs

Teachers, school nurses, pastoral or other members of staff may be the first to become aware that a young person may be developing an eating disorder. Share information about the possible identifying signs of disordered eating with the whole staff team to help with early identification.

Speak to your safeguarding lead

If you are concerned about a young person’s disordered eating, you should speak to your safeguarding lead immediately, to discuss next steps.

Inform the parents/carers

If school staff are concerned that a young person may be developing an eating disorder, it’s important to inform their parents/carers, and suggest that they seek assessment with their GP.

Make a referral

However, if parents/carers feel that they cannot take the young person to the GP, school staff can make a direct initial referral to the local community-based eating disorders service (CEDS-CYP). In the event of the parents not sharing the same level of concern, school staff should still proceed but should make this known to the family, and also inform the eating disorder service about the difference of view. 

Concerned about a child or young person?

If you are worried that a child or young person is at risk involve your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority, who will contact the parents/carers and other services as necessary. If the child or young person is at immediate risk, ensure that they are taken to their GP or A&E as a matter of urgency, depending on the severity of the concern.

Find out more

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