Just what the doctor ordered

22nd February 2008 at 00:00
Hospital school that teaches 6,000 pupils a year is first to be awarded specialist status

A hospital school that teaches up to 6,000 children a year has become the first in the country to be awarded specialist status.

James Brindley School in Birmingham, believed to be the largest in England specialising in teaching children with physical and mental illnesses, has become a media arts school - a specialist status that attracts pound;100,000 in funding to be spent on capital projects.

The school runs lessons in 13 locations across the city, including hospital classrooms, on wards for children too sick to be moved, in teaching centres for those unable to cope with regular school, and in pupils' homes.

Although the school only teaches around 600 pupils at any one time, the rate at which children move through the NHS means the teachers educate around 6,000 a year.

Nicky Kendall, the headteacher, said: "It is certainly a challenge. We assess the children when they come in and try to continue with their education as seamlessly as we can.

"Some are very ill, undergoing chemotherapy, and are tired and can only cope with limited teaching. Others can deal with a full school day. It's complex to get right.

"With long-term patients, education is very important, to keep them motivated. Continuing with things that are normal is important in getting them through the day."

James Brindley School was formed 10 years ago when hospital and specialist teaching services in Birmingham came together. It now has 93 full-time equivalent teachers.

If a child is likely to be in hospital for more than a day, teachers meet them and their parents to decide on an appropriate course of action.

Marie Beresford is one of two James Brindley teachers working with 3- to 19-year-olds on a 22-bed ward at Woodlands Hospital. Her pupils include cancer and spinal surgery patients. "A lot of our children are bed-bound and for the majority of the time we do individual lessons with them," she said.

"It's a very different challenge to teaching in a normal school. A lot of children are anxious about falling behind with their work when they come in, and really want to learn.

"Sometimes we do lose children to their illnesses. We are given support to cope with that. The important thing is to keep the atmosphere as positive as possible for the rest of the children."

As well as hospital teaching, the school runs children's centres and home schooling. This includes educating children suffering from mental health complaints, such as anxiety and depression.

One of its sites is a secure forensic psychiatric unit for 11- to 19-year-olds who have been judged a danger to themselves or others. Among the 22 young patients are those suffering from psychosis and schizophrenia, and those convicted of serious crimes.

James Brindley School will spend its pound;100,000 on media and information technology equipment for a double-decker bus that will travel between its different learning sites. It already uses video conferencing so children in isolation wards can join in with lessons and interact with teachers.

James Brindley has 10 sponsors, including RM, an education ICT company, Cadbury Schweppes, Birmingham Children's Hospital Charity, and the Birmingham-based schools of the King Edward VI Foundation.


James Brindley School is one of 30 hospital schools in England that vary significantly in size and the kind of education they offer.

James Brindley is the largest, with 600 pupils on its roll. By contrast, Shirle Hill Hospital School in Sheffield caters for 10 pupils aged 5 to 13 with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Its pupils spend two days a week receiving specialist help at the unit, recently rated outstanding by Ofsted, and the rest of the time at their home schools.

Many of the other hospital schools cover more than one site, providing education to children in a number of hospitals. Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in Bloomsbury, central London, works with University College London Hospital.

Its highly regarded school educates about 110 pupils at any one time.

All local authorities are responsible for ensuring that there is suitable education for children who cannot attend school due to illness.

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