Loophole hoopla for hospital schools
When the NGFL was set up, only schools with a DFEE number were eligible, excluding most of the UK's 155 hospital schools. Pat Ryan, of children's charity Express Link Up, approached the Treasury last year and, through the efforts of spending heads Robert Culpin and Stuart Taylor, assistance has been secured under the New Opportunities Fund.
The money will provide IT training for all hospital school teachers, many of whom have never seen a computer switched on in their wards. Even where equipment is provided, staff often do not know how to use it, unlike their young patients. "Children are going into hospital having always used PCs, and teachers are feeling threatened because they can't even use a keyboard," said Ryan.
Each year, over 150,000 children are hospitalised, many requiring months or years of treatment. "It's no fault of their own that they are excluded, so we are trying to bring these children into the mainstream, making sure that they don't miss out on schoolwork and have the best possible teaching," said Ryan. "This is the first time hospital teachers have been acknowledged and their training is absolutely paramount."
Hospital teachers follow the same curriculum used in mainstream schools, so children are able to keep up with their class, email assignments to their teachers and have it returned marked. They can also be tested on their national tests with software developed by the charity's patron, TV celebrity Carol Vorderman.
Express Link Up, in association with Learning Circuit, is consulting hospital school teachers to assess what type of training is required. Courses will be provided by local organisations, volunteers or through distance learning.
At Middlesex Hospital in west London, four full-time staff are employed to teach 42 secondary-level students in the Teenager Cancer Trust Unit and the Adolescent Unit. Most of these patients have acute and chronic conditions, or require recurrent admissions for ongoing treatment, such as chemotherapy. The average stay is six to 12 months, during which time they are also treated at their local hospital and at home.
"This training opens up opportunities so we don't feel so isolated," said Margaret Smith, a teacher at the hospital for eight years. "When something goes wrong, it will be good to know we can fix it instead of having to call in contractors and buy into training programs. Our budget is limited so the fact this is free is very helpful."
Smith has chosen to use the training to learn how to build websites. With the Teenage Cancer Trust, she plans to set up educational sites and chat rooms so patients of different hospitals can communicate. They will also produce CD-Roms and videos about their conditions.
"Our teenagers need more advanced and challenging work," she said. "They have so much talent and we have so much software and hardware, we just need the expertise."