I have been a keen scientist for as long as I can remember, from the days when I was exploring the garden and finding interesting creepy crawlies to the completion of my PhD many years later. I then spent 14 years as a clinical researcher, before changing careers to become a teacher.
My passion is to provide access to science for all young people, regardless of their situation. Fortuitously, the opportunity arose to become a science teacher at the Children’s Hospital School at the Leicester Royal Infirmary. Here, I was introduced to the frenetic, exhausting, but incredibly rewarding world of hospital school teaching.
The hospital school provides education for children between the ages of 4 and 16 who are currently not attending their mainstream school for any reason pertaining to either their physical or mental health. The students have the full range of educational abilities, from those with profound educational difficulties to those who are gifted and talented. All of these needs have to be catered for and we try to provide each student with two lessons each day.
Individually planned lessons
At the hospital, our day starts with a ward round at 8.30am, when we visit each of the six paediatric wards and ensure that we have picked up every child of school age – usually between 10 and 25 students. At 9am, our team meet to discuss the children who need schooling for that day and each teacher is allocated students for lesson time. These can range from an early-years student with profound and multiple learning difficulties to a Year 11 student who is about to take their GCSEs, all of whom need an individually planned, engaging and instructive lesson.
We have an hour to plan all our lessons for the day before the first sessions start at 10.15am. Lessons are taught either by the bedside, in the ward playroom or in our incredibly small classroom – usually one-to-one, but occasionally in small groups.
Lessons are usually planned to last for 50 to 60 minutes, although this can be changed without warning for medical intervention, tests, procedures and the child’s health.
In the middle of the day, we take a break for morning review and to make any changes to teaching plans, with maybe a couple of minutes to grab food. Then it is back up on to the wards for afternoon teaching.
We finish teaching at 3pm and spend the remainder of the day writing lesson reports.
I am primarily responsible for science and maths at the hospital and have introduced a science afternoon for all students every Wednesday, with activities such as testing acids and alkalis, growing beans, watching tadpoles and making torches. These afternoons have improved the children’s situations in many small ways, creating times when they can escape from the realities of their lives and into the wonders of science.
Science is overlooked in both primary and special educational needs and disability environments, as well as in environments such as mine. It is my aspiration for all children who have been admitted into hospital schools to have access to science. I was recently awarded a grant through the Let Teachers SHINE programme to develop resources to support this.
Children are instinctively natural scientists, their curiosity and enthusiasm making them incredible experimenters. This should be reason enough to make science accessible to them, wherever they are being taught.
Elizabeth Hope is lead teacher of science at the Children’s Hospital School at the Leicester Royal Infirmary