31st January 2020

When Cornwall’s outstanding Community and Hospital Education Service (CHES) was originally set up to provide education for children who are unable to attend school for medical reasons, the majority of pupils had physical conditions such as broken bones or long term illnesses like cancer. Today, while CHES still supports children with physical conditions, around 80% of its pupils have mental health needs, including depression, anxiety and self-harm.

CHES is part of the Wave Trust, the largest Alternative Provision provider in the South West, and recognised as the most successful trust in the country for providing high quality education for pupils who have been excluded from school or who are not in school for medical reasons. As well as its medical provision, Wave has six academies in Cornwall and three based in Devon for pupils who have been excluded from school or who are at risk of exclusion.

In addition to its Community and Hospital Education Service in Cornwall, in September Wave opened Torlands, a new specialist medical provision based in Merrivale in Exeter to provide education for pupils across the whole of Devon who are not able to attend school owing to medical reasons.

It was also commissioned by Cornwall Council to provide education services for children and young people staying at Sowenna, Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s new child and adolescent mental health unit in Bodmin. Research shows that an estimated 1 in 10 young people aged between 5 and 16 experience mental health difficulties. While most can be treated and supported within the community, some require a more intensive programme of treatment and care.

The specialist unit opened in September and the Wave education team, led by Jayne Brigg, are currently providing education services to 10 young people. Wave’s medical education services are led by Executive Principal Helen Casson who is very proud of the support they provide to more than 220 primary and secondary aged pupils with a range of physical and mental health needs.

“We believe that children and young people with health needs that impede their attendance at school should have access to high quality educational opportunities, with the expectation that they will be returning to school as soon as possible,” she said.

“We provide a personalised curriculum which meets the individual needs of our pupils and work closely with them, their families, schools and other agencies to ensure a smooth and effective transition back into mainstream education as their health improves.”

CHES currently provides education services to 120 pupils in Cornwall, with over 90 pupils receiving support in Devon. Pupils are referred by schools, with support from medical professionals, including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Pupils are either taught in Wave’s specialist centres at Merrivale in Exeter and Glynn House in Truro, at the hospital school room at RCHT in Cornwall and at Sowenna, in small groups locally or at their homes through a mixture of one to one and online teaching support.

Wave staff work with specialist teachers from schools and colleges across Cornwall and Devon to deliver a full range of core academic subjects, as well as an enrichment programme including art, sculpture, music and drama. Pupils also have opportunities to engage in physical activities to help develop their social skills and boost their confidence and self-esteem, and support them to re-integrate into mainstream settings.

“We have seen a significant increase in the numbers of children coming to us with mental health needs over the past few years” said Helen Casson.

“Around 80% of our current pupils are struggling with issues such as depression, anxiety and self-harm. We work closely with colleagues from CAMHS and other health and education professionals to provide all our pupils with the best possible chance to continue their education no matter what barriers they face.”

CHES services in Cornwall were formally inspected by Ofsted last year, with the provision retaining its “Outstanding” judgement for the second time. Inspectors praised the leadership team’s rigorous approach to school improvement and belief that there is always more that can be done to enhance the school so that it provides the very best for pupils, concluding “For you, good enough is simply not good enough!”

The Ofsted report also highlighted the positive way staff work with families, local schools and colleges, partner agencies and the hospital to provide the best possible education for pupils and to keep them safe. “While being considerate of pupils’ medical conditions, the school has high expectations and expects pupils to take part in learning whenever possible.”

Wave has very strong relationships with parents and carers of pupils, with one parent from Cornwall commenting “staff work beyond the call of duty; their skill is phenomenal. The school is a lifeline for my daughter.” In Devon, the parents of Sam **, a very able student, who joined the Torlands Academy in Year 9 when his obsessive compulsive tendencies and high anxiety had become overwhelming, leaving him unable to access mainstream education, said “Thank you so much for all you have done, and for all that you continue to do. I can't tell you the difference you have made to his life. I will always be very grateful. He’s making good progress and is able to focus much more on his learning this year.”

Wave Chief Executive Rob Gasson says staff are working very hard to ensure that all pupils and families have access to the same high quality support. “We are proud of the service we are providing for young people across Cornwall and Devon,” he said. “We are driven by the belief that we must provide the very best for our pupils and their families to enable them to succeed and thrive.”

“We know that education is an essential part of recovery for young people facing both physical and mental health challenges. We work closely with clinicians and staff from schools and colleges to provide each young person with a creative and innovative personalised programme which will enable them to continue their education while they are receiving treatment and then support their re-integration into school, college or work.”