What is a doctor’s role in a special school?


How I play an important role in education

People assume that doctors only see children when they have one of the many illnesses or ailments of childhood and need a prescription or a note to excuse them from school. But I’ve discovered that the link between doctors and teachers is stronger than you might imagine.

Children and young people with complex health needs can often be forgotten when it comes to education. They may miss time in the classroom through illness, medical appointments or unavoidable occurrences like seizures. But what happens if they have profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) too? Their levels of need  and support are higher than those of the “average” school student, but aren’t they still entitled to an education? Some may feel that it is easier for this growing group of children and young people to stay away from the classroom, rather than disrupt their peers’ education, but this is simply not fair.

There are few schools in the UK that cater for children and young people with PMLD and complex health needs, especially for students who cognitively function at the level of a three to twelve-month-old child. The school that I am associated with, St Margaret’s in Tadworth, Surrey, has found that education for children with PMLD needs to be intrinsically linked to therapy, care and medical input on a daily basis.

Ongoing medical advances, including everything from better treatment of conditions to more effective help at the scene of accidents, have ensured that increasing numbers of children and young people survive severe medical and other conditions. It’s important that these children, many of whom have PMLD, have access to the same experiences as other children; this includes school as much as anything else.

I provide on-site medical support for students, and one of my missions, as well as keeping the students medically safe, is to help them stay in the classroom and have as much exposure to education and learning as they can. Their complex health needs don’t have to hinder or prevent these experiences.

An integral part of the school’s team, I have a unique role that enables me to enjoy the best of both worlds: medicine and education. Rather than sitting in a clinic somewhere, I visit the children either in the classroom or at their on-site residences. Doctors aren’t feared here; we’re part of a bigger picture that enables these very special children and young people to learn.

Attending school regularly for many of these children and young people is in itself a challenge. The complex nature of their health means that neurological, respiratory, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal and immune system problems are not uncommon. While previously many of these pupils would have missed out on education through either illness or having to attend medical appointments, I’m fortunate to be on-site and on-hand to help. I’ve become a regular feature of the school and many of the pupils know me as well as they know their classroom staff.

This type of working ensures high attendance levels at school, and you can see that the pupils really enjoy being and learning with their peers. Frequently, schools and educational organisations talk about the merits of multidisciplinary teams, but I’ve been fortunate to see the true benefits of this type of working. We all play an important role in maintaining the health of each individual, and the pupils have really benefited because of this.

Article first published in SEN Magazine issue 43: November/December 2009.


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