Paul Fisher finds professionals worried that the education of children in some children in some hospital is in need of intensive care. Although Avon has cut its provision for sick children, the National Association for the Education of Sick Children puts forward the Royal Bristol Children's Hospital as an example of good practice, and a place that goes a long way to meeting the association's national recommendations.
Now that its staffing has been cut by more than a third, it offers a pared-down service with formal teaching in the mornings that is targeted at long-stay and recurrent-entry children. But when I visited, an hour before lunch, I found a generous professionalism and teaching that seemed well integrated with the medical care. Although adhering to the national curriculum is not a legal requirement in hospital schools, it has been welcomed here for the structure and continuity (this school's key word) it gives. Four primary-age children were doing a project on newspapers and the secondary-age pupils worked on curriculum-linked projects provided by their home schools.
The children were busy and most looked happy. Among them are the healthy brothers and sisters of those undergoing bone-marrow transplants. They are in the hospital to keep their siblings company and provide the sense of normality that will speed recovery. It is a measure of Avon's generosity that they are still welcomed, even though recouping costs is difficult.
During a busy lunch hour, the teachers phoned schools to discuss pupils' progress or to lay plans for home-tuition sessions. In between, they talked of "differentiation" - the mix of subjects, ages and abilities they must deal with - and the "decision fatigue" that goes with it. Viewed by the outsider, the school seemed a bright, coherent place which ensures that sick children (and their brothers and sisters) get the continuity of education which illness threatens.