Bristol schools criticise plan to pay hospital ‘excessive fees’ for teaching sick children

-Credit: (Image: Google Maps)
-Credit: (Image: Google Maps)

Governors in Bristol have criticised a plan to pay a hospital school “excessive fees” to teach sick children. Each school would pay a daily fee for each pupil being taught in hospital, but there are concerns these fees have been set too high.

Hundreds of pupils are taught by the Bristol Hospital Education School, with some children at the Bristol Children’s Hospital and others at the Riverside Unit in Stapleton. But the service has struggled with its finances and Bristol City Council wants other schools to help out.

Starting from September, each school could pay a daily fee for every pupil staying in hospital, for the duration of their stay. But there was confusion over exactly how much these fees would be, during a meeting of the schools forum on Tuesday, June 4.

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Reena Bhogal-Welsh, the council’s director of education, said: “A nominal charge is being introduced by the Bristol Hospital Education School to support our most vulnerable young people with their needs. The proposal is to charge £35 per day for each pupil taught. This would be introduced at the beginning of the academic year.”

A report to the schools forum also set the fee at £35 per day for each pupil, which is more than normal schools receive in funding per child. One problem is the costs paid by normal schools do not go away when a child is in hospital, and the new fees will stretch tight budgets even further.

Merche Clark, governor at St John’s Primary School, said: “I just don’t see where this money is coming from. The rate of £35 a day is almost one and a half times the money that we get for our pupils. I personally find it quite difficult to contemplate. Your costs do not reduce because a child has gone to hospital. At a time when we’re underfunding schools on many different levels, to have another cut at the money is just a bit too much.”

Mandy Cheshire, governor at St Bede's Catholic College, added: “It’s excessive, I would suggest. You’re not leaving anything behind for things like LSAs [learning support assistants] that we’ve put in place for some of these children while they’re in the Hospital Education School. We’re still going to have costs that we’re not going to be able to cover.

“We’ll already have things in place for that child. If they’re away for six weeks, we still have to pay for the support that they would have had, because we can’t get rid of that support while they’re away. Obviously the school has got things like electricity, which is not going to reduce for that one child.”

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However, the head teacher of the Hospital Education School denied the fee would be a flat £35 a day. Philippa Scholar said the fees would actually be lower, and depend on how old the child is, but she added she was unable to send round the suggested rates in time before the meeting.

She said: “We’ve introduced a sliding scale with these charges. It’s suggested £24.26 a day for primary schools, £30.37 for key stage three, and £33.32 for key stage four. I didn’t have sufficient notice to get it out sooner, or you would have known long before this meeting. What we’re asking is that the funding follows the child. If the child is only with us for six weeks, the school is only charged for that time.”

The new plan was ultimately not supported by head teachers and governors in the schools forum. Instead, a report with the correct figures for the fees will be circulated before the next time the forum meets, in July. The Hospital Education School currently receives a fixed amount of funding from the council, which has not changed since 2012 — despite the number of pupils more than doubling and other costs increasing too.