Monday 20 November 2017

Pupils in a class of their own

If your child is sick in hospital for long periods of time, one thing you don't need to worry about is their education, thanks to the work of hospital schools

ON Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, teenager Ronan Coughlan attends second-level school as normal. But for the rest of the week he takes classes at the hospital school at Temple Street Children's University Hospital.

The fifth-year student, who is currently awaiting a kidney transplant, is a familiar face at the hospital school, which he has attended for years.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, while undergoing several hours of dialysis, Ronan works closely with a teacher from the special school who comes to his bedside.

"I do whatever I need to catch up on a particular day. I work with the teacher for an hour or two and we follow up on the previous day's schoolwork," he explains.

Exams

Ronan, a full-time student at Newport College in Tipperary, has been doing this since fourth class in primary school -- in fact, last year he sat some of his Junior Cert exams at Temple Street.

"I did my Junior Cert last summer and I sat three or four of the exams in Temple Street. The hospital school organised it so I didn't miss any of my exams.

"I sat English, Irish and maths in Temple Street. I've been going to the Temple Street school since I was in fourth class. I like it, it's a good school and they're very helpful there. It's a good resource for me in secondary school," he says.

The main benefit for Ronan is that it helps him to keep up with his other school.

"I missed 96 days during my Junior Cert year and I still got five honours!

"I feel that if I didn't have the Temple Street school I'd have fallen back and not done as well.

"I'm on the dialysis machine for about four hours and a teacher comes to me for one to two hours while I'm having dialysis," says the 16-year-old, who also attends for dialysis on Saturdays.

Mary Chambers, who has been principal of the award-winning school since 1997, explains how it works.

"We keep in regular contact with our pupils' home schools to ensure that we are dovetailing with the work.

"We talk to their teachers by phone and by email," she says, adding that she appreciates those schools and teachers who "take the time to explain their schemes of work".

In Ronan's case, teachers at the hospital school keep in regular contact with his parents and his school to ensure continuity of his education.

One of seven around the country, the school at Temple Street has been running since the 1950s.

It's big and busy -- four teachers and a special needs assistant cater for the requirements of more than 800 pupils a year, or, says Chambers, about 40 a day.

There's a strong emphasis on one-to-one attention, but children also get the opportunity to enjoy group work.

"It is like a one-teacher school. A lot of the work is one-to-one, but in each subject we can do a good group session."

Although the student population fluctuates -- "every day we would have different pupils" says Chambers -- recurrent admissions make up about 40pc of the student population, so there is continuity.

"These would be respiratory pupils with conditions such as cystic fibrosis or children on dialysis. We also have a lot of long-term patients, such as children who have been injured in road traffic accidents or who have a head injury. It's a busy school!"

The school operates both on the ward and in two specially allocated classrooms.

"Those children who are non-infectious and well enough come to the classroom for group sessions," explains Chambers, who says that pupils range in age from four-year-olds to teenagers.

"We follow the primary school curriculum, focusing on the core subjects as well as on art and music.

An artist in residence provides once- weekly art sessions; musicians from the National Concert Hall come once a month for music education while the school also emphasises science and maths. Last year it won an award for maths and science excellence.

"I think the children like coming to the school. They're getting away from the ward," comments Chambers.

The one-to-one approach can be of benefit to some children, she believes.

"Our aim is to bridge the gap over the time that they have lost from normal school. We regularly find that the one-to-one tutoring they get here can help them with little difficulties they may have in maths, for example."

Attending the hospital school also helps children re-integrate into their mainstream school more easily, she says.

Over at Our Lady's Children's Hospital School in Crumlin, things are even busier. The department-registered school, operational since 1964, has an annual intake of up to 2,000 pupils.

Five teachers, along with a special needs assistant and a secretary, operate in the school, which consists of two classrooms, several offices, a kitchen, a multi-sensory room and a special needs toilet facility.

Primary school children attend in the morning and post-primary pupils attend in the afternoon.

"It's a very busy school -- we are dealing with up to 2,000 children a year," says headmistress Mary McCarron.

"You get the full range of disability and ability, so it's like a microcosm of any school in Ireland," she says. "We have pupils with multi-disability, often as a result of chronic illness such as cancer or cardiac disease or burns," she says, adding that although they deliver the full curriculum the school prioritises literacy and numeracy as well as social, personal and health education at primary level.

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