Helping Children With Medical And Mental Health Conditions Get The Best Out Of School

An insight into teaching at a London Hospital School during these most unusual times

helen

Chelsea Community Hospital School (CCHS) now has seven sites spread across the borough of Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and the City of Westminster in London, UK.
I am the lead teacher at one of CCHS’s new sites.

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Within this particular hospital site we have a large number of overseas long-term pupils who are taught within a multidisciplinary team (MDT) setting for neuro rehabilitation. The children and young people range in ages from 2 - 19 and often have complex special educational needs alongside a wide range of health needs including acquired brain injury, epilepsy and heart problems. 

It’s been a challenging time working through lockdown and though the hospital is well resourced, like many working in hospitals around the country, there have been limitations and frustrations that we have had to work around.

Our pupils have continued to have good access to therapy and school. But the biggest challenge has been isolation. The children and young people are nursed in individual rooms; while this offers some advantages in relation to infection control it increases the sense of isolation and separateness. Opportunities to leave their rooms and meet other young people have been limited, while visits from families were also curtailed. Additionally, opportunities to leave the hospital for short visits and/or home leave had to stop.

As a result of the changes in routine and experience I’ve noticed that our pupils have struggled and have had an increasing sense of isolation and low mood. This is one of the reasons why teaching has been more important than ever in terms of bringing new experiences and sensory activities into their rooms.

The challenge for us has been to be even more creative in what we do. We must factor in what resources we can take into rooms in terms of infection control as well as how we can effectively communicate while wearing restrictive PPE. Many of our pupils have limited English and their specific learning needs can add additional communication challenges. It’s therefore vital we find ways to effectively communicate. Communication isn’t only important to deliver learning but is vital to offer reassurance and support during a very challenging time.

Wearing PPE has been uncomfortable and has had a distancing affect. It’s hard not to share a smile and I’m so aware that how we communicate, our voice, change of tone and facial expressions are so important for these young people. We use 'Total Communication' to support our teaching which has helped alleviate some of the barriers of mask wearing, this means we sign and use symbols as well as touch cues and eye gaze to support optimal communication.

Like many schools we have embraced the use of Microsoft Teams for online learning when one member of staff had to shield, but only for our more able students. For many of our pupils the fact that we were able to continue teaching face to face was crucial to them getting the teaching and wider support they need to continue learning.

As lockdown has eased, we have been able to create projects and plan work in conjunction with our MDT team around children's individual therapy and education goals using our local environment. We’ve planned quizzes, checklists as well as activities around daily living and communication skills. This work culminated in a visit to the Zoo and the local park.

The pupils and the team here are a resilient bunch who thrive in connection with each other, and I for one really treasure going back to work after my own fortnight at home with a cough (not Covid it turns out). Grateful to be doing a job I love with young people who are inspiring and brave beyond measure. 

Helen 

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