Manifesto 2024

Six policies for the ‘hidden’ children with health needs

Out of sight and often forgotten, pupils whose health keeps them out of school need better support

Out of sight and often forgotten, pupils whose health keeps them out of school need better support

28 Jun 2024, 17:00

The Covid pandemic and its consequences have brought into sharp relief the impact of a disrupted education. There is one cohort within our education system, however, for whom such disruption is the norm.

National Association for Hospital Education supports and represents those who work within hospital schools, tier 4 child and adolescent mental health units, medical alternative provision and home tuition services. The children and young people we support are temporarily or permanently disadvantaged by illness or other medical and/or mental health conditions, and our aim is to foster collaboration to secure outstanding standards of education for them.

How many of them? Well, rather unbelievably, we don’t know. The government has no idea how many children are in hospital receiving education, nor how many are unable to access their mainstream school due to illness.

Worse, it has no means of finding out even if it tried. Our current attendance codes don’t support gathering this information. As a result, these children are in effect ‘hidden’. And because they are not causing problems in their schools or communities, they are often altogether forgotten.

And yet, they are arguably the most vulnerable cohort of children across all education settings.

As you might expect, our members’ hopes from the next government overlap with those from others working with vulnerable children. In terms of policy however, though their needs differ greatly, there are a number of specific provisions that would allow them all to make the most of their disrupted learning.

If the next government is intent on improving educational outcomes and standards for all, here are six policies that would achieve quick gains for our learners.

A place to learn

Invest in quality environments to better support our pupil wellbeing, learning and progress and work with NHS trusts to ensure hospitals have appropriate learning spaces.

Digital infrastructure

Ensure our pupils have the same access to edtech as their peers (or better) so that they can keep up with their learning and develop the digital skills they need for the future.

Nuance on attendance

Many of our pupils want to attend school, but can’t. For them, messages about absence must be nuanced, and strategies to involve them must be encouraging and engaging.

Health service support

Invest in therapeutic health services and specialist therapeutic services so that children can access timely support. This will minimise the impact of their medical/mental health difficulty on their learning.

Team around the child

Co-locate multiagency teams within medical AP, enabling all professionals to work collaboratively with the child at the heart of any planning.

Standardise support

Currently, our children face a postcode lottery in terms of the education they will be offered when unwell in the community or in hospital.

Some local authorities provide up to 25 hours in dedicated learning spaces or centres, and some provide five hours of online tuition, often outsourced to tuition companies. Some hospitals have a dedicated teaching team for inpatient children. Others insist that children must be in hospital for 15 days or more before they can access any education.

This is neither fair nor equitable. So our most pressing request is for a fair funding formula that ensures every child will be entitled to a high-quality educational offer if they become too unwell to attend school, regardless of where they live.

The children in our care have the same ambitions and hopes for the future as their peers. And like every child who lost learning due to Covid lockdowns, they have not chosen to have their education disrupted.

This week, the Labour Party announced they will appoint Covid recovery tsar, Sir Kevan Collins as their lead adviser on educational standards if they win the election.

Whoever wins, we hope they will turn their eye early to a cohort for whom interruptions to schooling are the norm. A level playing field for children with medical and mental health difficulties who are unable to attend their mainstream school doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

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