Are you familiar with the role of ‘hospital teacher’ and what do they do to support children?
At the start of 2018, I led teacher training at a PRU in Harrow, London. I worked with 3 colleagues who were ‘hospital teachers’, a first for me. They were attached to the PRU but had a remit to work with children who are hospitalised and off school long-term.
I’m sharing this here in order to raise the profile of hospital teachers – written by Kate Sumner.
The Hospital Teaching Service:
The hospital teaching team provide teaching to children in the two acute pediatric wards of the Royal Berkshire Hospital. We are a small team of two teachers and two HLTAs and part of Cranbury College in Reading. We teach between 9 AM and 3.15 PM during term time.
Our aim is to maintain continuity and normality in children’s education in a compassionate setting. We work in partnership with children’s parents, home schools and other agencies to ensure children succeed. We provide a safe, happy environment where everyone is respected and listened to and we take pride in ourselves and our achievements. We ensure that all children’s right to education is fulfilled no matter what their needs.
Every Day Is Different
Every day is different and new. We start by having a handover meeting with medical staff to find out which patients are in the ward and available for teaching. We then meet the patients, it can be a completely new set each day, and our students can come from anywhere in the world. We offer a variety of tasks to engage the children in our topic work. A range of cross-curricular work is planned and activities offered on a different theme each term, covering EYFS to KS4. We are skilled at assessing ability quickly so that we can set work to an appropriate level. We can work with one student who has profound learning needs followed by a very able 16-year-old in the same session.
Teaching is 1:1 usually at the bedside and often with parents supporting. We are able to identify gaps in learning quickly and teach these so that all pupils make progress whilst with us. When pupils are in hospital, their primary need is a medical one. We work alongside NHS colleagues and closely with Play Specialists. We are sensitive to the pupil’s medical needs and learning is encouraged where pupils are well enough.
Some days are very hard when we hear a child has been diagnosed with cancer or dies …
The length of a child’s stay varies from one day to several months. When we have a pupil who is on the ward for more than 3 school days, we contact the ‘home school’ to gather more information about the pupil’s ability and needs and about the work they would be completing if they were in school. The children remain on roll with their ‘home school’. We teach pupils of all abilities and many of our recurrent learners are those with profound special needs. We have good links with the local Special Schools and provide a range of sensory activities making use of specialist equipment.
We also work with a large number of students with mental health needs, including eating disorders and have received additional training to be able to support these students effectively. Infection control is an important part of our work. We have to wipe all the equipment with anti-bacterial wipes after each use. We get through a lot of laminating pouches as we laminate so that we can wipe and reuse resources. iPads are also a valuable and wipeable tool! We also have to wear medical gowns and gloves when teaching pupils inside rooms who are infectious. We have to be very careful working with oncology patients who have low immune systems and have to be careful not to cross-contaminate from one patient to another.
We are a very close team, about to go on our third holiday together at Easter. This is hugely important as the most difficult part of our work is the emotional strain of working with sick children and indeed those with terminal illnesses. Some days are very hard when we hear a ‘crash’ bell or find out that a child has been diagnosed with cancer or when a child dies.
We support each other through these times and offer what support we can to parents and hospital staff. We love working for the hospital teaching service. Every day is different, interesting and hugely rewarding. We can be really flexible and creative with our teaching and develop the children’s interests.
We can see progress being made each day and know how valuable it is for children with medical needs to continue with their education. It is a real privilege to work in this setting.
Kate Sumner is a lead teacher for the Hospital Teaching Service, at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading.