6 Jun 2022

Taking Exams in a Hospital School

We are in the midst of exams at Ellern Mede School and as would be in any school in the country, it’s a daunting time. The exams office moved into a frenzy of activity over the last few weeks dealing with a different school for each patient, ensuring the home school agrees to the right access arrangements, checking that the correct transfers are in place…the list goes on and on. We’re a hospital school for young people with complex mental health issues and the journey to get our young people ready to take exams is also complex. 

There are many young people in hospitals across the country and, of those, eight are in our school at the age to take their GCSEs. Any parent who has a child taking exams will tell you how incredibly stressful it is. In fact, I answered the phone call to a woman from a local authority enquiring about a patient the other day. The conversation turned to the pressure her own daughter was under taking her exams and she exclaimed in disbelieving frustration: ‘why do we do this to them?’ 

Why, indeed. 

Our young people arrive with a very fractured education, often in a state of refusal believing that because they haven’t been achieving grade 9s they are unworthy of receiving an education. As teachers, our first and most important task is to gently bring them to the belief that they are worthy of being educated. Dismantling those internal barriers is our biggest challenge, and then we begin the task of filling in the gaps in their learning and developing their skills. All of this happens whilst they are in treatment and struggling with being away from home. 

Of those eight young people, every one of them has a different journey in how they managed to be ready to take their exams. And every one of those has family, a home school, and an entire medical team around them to make it possible. 

And then there are the hospital schoolteachers who have prepped, encouraged, and worked tirelessly to make it possible that these young people should not lose out on the opportunities that an education affords because they are ill. 

Education changes lives, breaks down barriers and opens doors when others have been shut. 

So, when our pupils were lined up outside our little school ready to walk into their first exam a few teachers stood outside saying words of encouragement: sharing proud and nervous smiles with the HCAs walking them into the science room that had been converted into an exam space; feeling that if it were possible, this is the moment, our pupils should receive their marks.  

A grade 9 for making it to this point. 

Samreen Shah 

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