Leicester District
National Education Union

Jessica Edmonds, Leicester NUT Assistant Secretary, 21st November 2018

National Association for Hospital Education Conference 2018

Over the last few years, educators working in the field of hospital education have been working hard to form this new national association and host its inaugural conference. Your first question about this might well be 'What is hospital education?' Even if a child is too ill to attend school, or has been in hospital longer than fifteen days, they have a statutory entitlement to education. This right was enshrined in 2000 as part of the Access to Education document, as well as section 19 of the Education Act.

Educators may work in rooms in hospitals that children attend like a school, they may visit children in their hospital beds or homes, or children may visit a physical hospital school. In Leicester we are very lucky to be able to provide all three of these services; in other parts of the country there is little organised provision.

I was surprised and saddened at how good the provision for children was in some areas compared to others. Shouldn't we be providing the same level of education for all children, regardless of where they live? It seems that funding, as ever, is an issue, as SEND and mental health monies are not ringfenced. Furthermore, although it is the local authority's duty to provide the education, it is not the hospital's duty to provide space for a classroom. Despite the idea of joined up thinking sitting behind the 2014 EHCP, it appears that government departments are not working together to meet the needs of some of our most vulnerable children.

Through the day there were a range of interesting talks from a wide variety of people. Drs Joseph Mintz and Ioanna Palaiologou presented findings from their research into hospital education, with key points being the importance of the environment for learning for the child, and that successful approaches rely on collaboration between agencies. Although education of hospitalised or sick children is not therapy, it can be therapeutic as it creates a sense of normalcy and belonging. Additionally, there is a need for staff who work in hospital education to be supported emotionally, as they deal with bereavement and critical illnesses on a daily basis. Ultimately, Drs Mintz and Palaiologou found that more research needs to be done as there is very little in existence, and there is a massive lack of awareness surrounding hospital education.

As a primary science lead, I was interested to hear Dr Elizabeth Hope talk about an initiative that started in Leicester called 'Science by the bedside'. The scheme created lesson plans and resources to be delivered by hospital educators who may or may not be science specialists, and the pilot study resulted in improved access to science teaching and learning, with 100% of pupils making expected progress. Also crucial were their findings that the children's efforts in science lessons were above average. For me it goes to show that practical science is a key part of science education at every age and need. I believe that resources are (or will be) available through the NAHE website. Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth also delivered a speech with some startling statistics. Did you know that the Children's Health Commissioner recently stated that there are 8000 children with mental health issues? That's 3 children in every classroom. In Leicester the average waiting time for a CAMHS referral is 2 months. Children might not meet the criteria, which are high because the service doesn't have enough staff to support that many children. They don't have the staff because they can't recruit them - CAMHS currently has unfilled vacancies.

So, perhaps we all need to be a little more aware of both the physical and mental health needs of children in our classrooms. Perhaps we should be pushing for a mental health first aider in every school. Perhaps we should be pushing for more training on mental health needs in children. Perhaps we all need to celebrate the hard work that our hospital educators and SENCOs do. You're all brilliant, well done!

Want more help/info?
NASEN miniguides — Downloadable leaflets on a range of medical needs and how to support them
The Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health
Networking and training through UCL
Forthcoming ACAMH conference on autism