Developing the new Cambridge Children's Hospital school

We have a working group - the School Workstream - dedicated to planning for our hospital school, from what it looks like to the kind of service it provides. The school will be a link to normality and structure for our patients. The workstream is made up of clinical and education professionals, the local authority and parent Coproduction Champions with experience of caring for a child in hospital.

Nadine Gooding-Hebert is head teacher of Pilgrim Pathways School and co-chair on our School Workstream.

Currently, Pilgrim Pathways School provides education to children and young people with complex mental and physical health needs, both at Addenbrooke's Hospital and the inpatient mental health wards at the Ida Darwin site in Fulbourn.

Why is hospital school so important?

Hospital stays for children are often unplanned, and as a result can leave them feeling confused and disconnected from their everyday lives. Through school we offer them a link back to normality while also trying to maintain their academic progress.

What difference does education make for children who are in hospital or mental health wards?

Education is key to the young people’s recovery, and the work we do in school helps inform their treatment by providing vital feedback on how they are progressing. We also support the young people to re-engage with education. Many have been out of the school for long periods and have to overcome significant barriers to learning. We’re in a unique position to support accelerated progress for our young people, be that academically or by building confidence, self-esteem and promoting positive classroom behaviours.

Do enough children have access to school in hospital?

There is a real shortage of education provisions in hospitals in this region and around the country. We see first-hand the impact of this on young people who transition from a hospital without a school to Pilgrim Pathways School. Often this leaves them feeling disenfranchised with education and means they fall behind in their studies.

A lady in a patterned shirt smiling

Nadine Gooding-Hebert is the headteacher at Pilgrim Pathway School

Nadine Gooding-Hebert is the headteacher at Pilgrim Pathway School

What are we aiming to do differently at Cambridge Children’s Hospital?

Currently at Addenbrooke's Hospital the lack of physical space available for school has a significant impact on our coverage in the hospital. We are hoping that Cambridge Children's Hospital will enable us to deliver more vital services to young people. We have some great ideas about how we can bring the outside world into hospital school and enable the young people to feel connected to it, as this really helps with transition. For example, we’re keen to work with the occupational health and physio team at Addenbrooke’s to bring a PE offer onto the wards. We will also have early years provision in the new hospital, something we don't have at the moment.

We have run workshops about hospital school with children, young people and parents. What do you see coming out of these?

I found it so empowering to hear all the ideas generated at the engagement sessions. All the people who took part gave the topic great consideration and showed passion in expressing how they think we can do school in hospital better. It’s been fantastic to have so many fresh eyes looking at our school provision, and I’m excited about the prospect of taking their ideas forward to the new Cambridge Children's Hospital.

Creative engagement with children, young people and families

By Ellen Nowak, CUH Arts team

What would you like the school at Cambridge Children’s Hospital to look and feel like? What makes it easy or difficult to transition from school at home to hospital school? Is it helpful to have a timetable and structure while you’re in hospital?

These are some of the questions we wanted to ask children and families to inform the planning of our new hospital school. We didn’t want to just invite them to the usual kind of meeting where everyone sits around talking. Instead, we wanted to use the arts to help them explore past experiences of hospital school and think creatively about what they want it to be like in the future.

We worked with artist Jacquie Campbell to deliver a series of online art workshops for children over 7 and their families. Each participant was sent a pack of art materials in the post. Jacquie then guided them through different art activities to explore the various topics.

He’s been really engaged in this. He’s really been thinking. I’ve been amazed, actually!
Parent whose child attended the workshop

We learnt so much about children and families’ experience of being in hospital and what they would like the new school to be like. This has had a huge impact on our plans for Cambridge Children's Hospital. In particular, we learnt ...

•       How important schooling is to children and families while they’re in hospital

•       The real wish to have structure during the hospital day, and to know what is going to happen and when

•       The need for good visibility of the hospital’s offer around schooling, including who the staff are and how to contact them

•       That good communication between the hospital school and the school back at home is vital

A child's drawing of a hospital journey

Tristan, who attends many hospital appointments, drew a picture showing a giant hand that is "pushing and pulling me in and out of school"

Tristan, who attends many hospital appointments, drew a picture showing a giant hand that is "pushing and pulling me in and out of school"

A drawing using craft paper

A parent created this image explaining her daughter's experience of the difficult interplay between home and hospital school

A parent created this image explaining her daughter's experience of the difficult interplay between home and hospital school

"Sometimes it's hard to know where to begin with a subject as emotive as school. I've found that the creative tasks have helped me vocalise the issues we faced and how things could be improved for children in the future." (Parent)

Working with under 7s

It's important that we hear the voices of our very youngest children. Our Co-Production Champion Hannah, who is a member of the School Workstream and mum of two, came up with the idea of sending children a little friend, a buddy, and offer story prompts to help open up the conversations. Jacquie designed beautiful art activity packs that were sent out by post for children to complete with their parents. These were a great hit!

small wooden toys with faces on

A little friend was sent to every child

A little friend was sent to every child

What did you miss while you were in hospital?






My toys

My teachers/key workers

The playground & running around




Messy play

We are working with the design team to incorporate all of this feedback into our plans for Cambridge Children's Hospital. We are also looking at what changes we can put in place straight away.

A huge thank you to all the children, young people and families who shared their experiences and their ideas with us!