Letter: Education threat for hospital children

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The Independent Online
Sir: We write because of considerable concern at the vulnerable position of the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School, which caters for children admitted to hospital with mental illness. Southwark Council last week decided to cut the number of teachers at this school by half as part of its education committee's saving plans.

This threatens the ability of the child psychiatric in-patient service to carry out its function at this internationally renowned hospital. Potentially it threatens the in-patient service's existence. The school was particularly commended in the Health Advisory Service document, Bridges Over Troubled Waters, as a model of good practice. It will deprive disadvantaged children and adolescents of education to which they have a legal right - let alone a great need - while they are in the hospital. The schooling forms a central plank of our assessment and treatment.

There is no legal framework that could allow the hospital school to apply for grant-maintained status. If it had such status, it would allow the school to run independently of the local authority. While there is an amendment proposed by Lord Young of Dartington to the current Education Bill, it will not be in place when the staff are made redundant; so their specialist skills will be lost and staffing levels in the future will be affected.

The school caters for children of all abilities who have mental illness and psychiatric disorders. They have the most severe difficulties, sufficient to take the unusual step of hospital admission. These include children who are severely conduct-disordered; these latter have been the subject of recent controversy.

Some have been excluded at very young ages (five or six years old) from normal schools and then from schools specialising in the teaching of children with emotional and behavioural disturbances. They also include psychotic children and adolescents and youngsters with life-threatening illnesses, such as anorexia nervosa, whose education has been severely disrupted. The school enables many of the children to become enthusiastic pupils for the first time in their lives and to alter their subsequent educational careers.

Central funding would enable the preservation of a centre of excellence until it is able to become self-governing as a grant-maintained school.

Yours faithfully,

BRIAN JACOBS (Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist), FIONA SOBOTSKY (Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist), STEPHEN WOLKIND (Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist), ROBERT GOODMAN (Senior Lecturer Child Psychiatry), ERIC TAYLOR (Reader in Neurodevelopmental Child Psychiatry), GERALD RUSSELL (Professor of Psychiatry), MICHAEL RUTTER (Professor of Child Psychiatry), J. MacKEITH (Forensic Psychiatrist)

The Maudsley Hospital

London, SE5

5 May