New Zealand's Health Schools were established fourteen years ago, out of "Special Education 2000", to help keep children learning when they are unwell for extended periods and missing school.
There are three Health Schools in New Zealand – Northern Health School, Central Regional Health School and Southern Health School – and together they assist around 2,500 students each year.
It's a common misconception that Health Schools only help children who are ill in hospitals. This is largely because Health Schools evolved from the earlier framework of Hospital Schools which had classrooms based within the hospital, but our mandate now extends far beyond the hospital grounds.
Health Schools today provide educational support to children whether they're in hospital or at home in the community. This change reflects the fact that modern medical practice has reduced the amount of time patients actually spend in hospital for treatment, and the fact that there are long-term illnesses which don't require hospital treatment.
Today, Health School teachers spend about two-thirds of their time teaching children in a community setting and only one-third of their work occurs in hospitals. It was this growing emphasis on community-based teaching that provided the rationale for a change in name from "Hospital School" to "Health School" in 2000.
The Southern Health School began with around twelve teachers in six sites around the South Island, teaching around 100 students in a year. As the school has become more widely known it now has 21 teachers in eleven sites, teaching nearly 700 students in a year.
It is encouraging to know that students who are unwell are able to continue their education with the support of Health Schools.