Schooldays at the Horton - hospital's education unit is 100 years old this week

100 years ago this week a dedicated group of teachers, led by Dr G R Griddlestone, opened a school to teach children in hospital.

Oxfordshire Hospitals School celebrated its 100th birthday on Monday
Oxfordshire Hospitals School celebrated its 100th birthday on Monday

The specialist school continues to this day. It is believed to be the oldest in the UK, possibly the world and it helps educate ill patients staying at the Oxford Children’s Hospital and Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Oxford as well as the Horton General Hospital in Banbury.

The school was originally based in a ward set aside for children needing orthopaedic treatment - especially those with tuberculosis - and had 14 pupils. In 1920, the average length of stay in hospital for these children was 130 days - so the provision of schooling was essential for the young patients.

The decades that followed saw Oxfordshire Hospital School (OHS) go from strength to strength. Technology has transformed its methods but its principle always remained the same - that illness or injury should not deprive young people of the vital education they are entitled to.

In 2018, the school even provided one young patient with a robot 'buddy' which enabled him to join his friends virtually in the classroom. At the time the school had invested in two robots, thought to be the first used in schools in the UK.

During the pandemic children have been provided with items such as individual Lego packs to help maths lessons without risk of cross contamination.

OHS runs classes at the Highfield Adolescent Unit, at Helen and Douglas House and in community settings. It was rated 'outstanding' by Offsted in 2017 and it caters for children from four to 19-years-old who are unable to attend their home school for a range of medical and mental health reasons.

The School was created in 1920 on the site of the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, then known as the Wingfield Hospital. The original teaching manuals show that there were only 14 pupils and lessons largely took place outside when the school first started, while today up to 1,000 children a year are taught in settings across the county.

Steve Lowe, Headteacher of the Oxfordshire Hospital School, said: “Being the head as the school turns 100 years old is a total honour. Reflecting on the work that the staff have done at the school and the achievements made by its pupils over 100 years is incredibly humbling.

“There’s no doubt it’s an unusual time to celebrate this centenary, and of course we are disappointed that we can’t have a proper face to face party. But it’s important we come together – albeit virtually – to mark this special occasion.

“The staff and pupils that we have today are a particularly special group of people who have all shown so much determination and resilience to keep the school going in recent months; an achievement that could not have been realised without the support of our friends and colleagues at the hospitals and support services with which we work.”

Zoe Pooley, Matron for the Oxford Children’s Hospital, said: "The whole Oxford Children’s Hospital team and all those working across at the NOC and Horton would like to send a very special birthday message to the school.

“You cannot underestimate how important the school is to our young patients. It is so important in keeping some sense of ‘normal’ in the life of a child sick in hospital.

“Children in hospital just want to get on and do stuff – and yes that even includes their school work. Having teachers who work either at the bedside, in our classrooms or via virtual technology is so important and our hospitals are incredibly lucky to have them here with us.

“So we would like to all wish the Oxfordshire Hospital School a very Happy Birthday - and a hundred more wonderful years.”

As part of the celebrations Oxford Hospitals Charity, which regularly supports the hospital-based school, has funded a commemorative art project that the pupils will be helping to create.

A special centenary song has been created by Community Albums which includes children and staff from the school. Patients and pupils have created birthday cards and beeswax candles and enjoyed celebratory cakes.

Artist Davina Drummond has been commissioned by Oxford Hospitals Charity to work with the school and its pupils to create a centenary art project which will be displayed at the hospital later in the year.

And members of staff from the school are also taking on some fundraising challenges to support Oxford Hospitals Charity, Oxford Health Charity and Helen and Douglas House.