For children spending time in a hospital or another healthcare setting, being able to learn while they’re receiving care can mean more than just keeping up with their schoolwork. It can help reduce stress, give opportunities to socialise, and take their mind off their medical treatment.
But the Children’s Commissioner for Wales has warned that children in Wales face inconsistencies in provision which can lead to some having fewer opportunities to learn than others, or sometimes missing out completely.
According to the Commissioner, children who live in Wales also have reduced entitlements to education than their English counterparts when they’re receiving treatment. In England, there is a legal requirement for education other than at school to be full-time, unless not in the best interests of the child. There is no full-time requirement in Wales.
In a new report, Rocio Cifuentes MBE has called on the Welsh Government to make sure that all children receiving ongoing inpatient health care have a full-time educational offer. She has also called for a consistent approach to funding education in healthcare settings across local authorities, to make sure that children across Wales have an equal educational offer.
Children who took part in the Children’s Commissioner’s research valued their educational experiences while receiving treatment, pointing to the broad benefits that education has on their wellbeing:
“It made such a difference on making me feel ‘normal.” – 16-year old in hospital for more than 8 weeks
“It keeps me up to date with work from mainstream school, decreasing stress and anxiety about returning.”
But despite being positive about the education they received, children also wanted more opportunities to learn:
“Dialysis sessions are boring for young children. More than one hour of fun learning is needed. Just not long enough.” – 12-year-old in hospital for more than 8 weeks
This concern was echoed by professionals who took part in the Commissioner’s research: only a third of those surveyed felt that the current level of education provided is enough to meet the needs of the children they work with.
According to the Children’s Commissioner, inconsistencies in how this type of education is funded across Wales means that some children receive more learning than others.
It is the child’s local authority’s responsibility to provide education wherever a child receives their education, and authorities are usually billed by healthcare settings for the education a child receives there.
But responses to her survey of local authorities showed significant differences in the hours of education each authority say they will fund, varying from 5 to 20 hours per week across Wales.
The Commissioner’s report also highlights some of the negative experiences current funding arrangements have caused families. In one case, a parent had been made aware, by her child’s school, of a bill the school had received following her child’s short stay in hospital, after the child had taken part in some learning offered there. This caused her stress during what was already a difficult time.
Children who miss out
93% of healthcare professionals who responded to the Commissioner’s survey said there were particular children that did not have suitable access to education when they are a patient in a healthcare setting.
This included young people over the age of 16, children with additional learning needs, and children learning through the medium of Welsh.
Whilst there isn’t a legal duty on authorities to provide this type of education for young people over the age of 16, local funding arrangements mean that while some young people can learn when they’re receiving treatment, others miss out.
In one case, the Commissioner’s office was contacted by a parent whose 17-year-old child was an in-patient at a healthcare setting. When the child was 16, they were able to access education. But since turning 17, due to limited resources, their education stopped, despite medical professionals’ views that the child would benefit from education as part of their care plan. In other settings, the Commissioner’s office heard that local funding arrangements meant they were comfortably able to offer post-16 education.
The Commissioner has called for updated guidance from Welsh Government to ensure all children and young people under the age of 18 can access educational provision when they are an in-patient in a healthcare setting.
Commenting on the findings, Rocio Cifuentes MBE said:
“What we see from our research is the value of learning to children and young people who are receiving treatment. It’s not just about keeping up with schoolwork; it’s also about the joy of learning, a sense of normality, and connecting with others. All children and young people have a right to education under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. But in reality, we can see from this research that not all children are receiving that right when they’re receiving treatment.
“There is a huge variation in the hours that local authorities say they’ll fund, and differences across Wales in funding arrangements between authorities and providers. What this means is that you might have one child who is getting the education in they need, and a child in similar circumstances in a different part of Wales who isn’t. That’s not right.
“Welsh Government needs to review local authorities’ duties in this area to make sure that every affected child has a full-time educational offer, and that funding arrangements are consistent across Wales and work effectively for children.”