By Danielle Valder
Danielle Valdar is Assistant Headteacher and responsible for curriculum delivery at The Children’s Hospital School at Great Ormond Street Hospital. To celebrate the 72nd birthday of the NHS this week, Danielle has written about her experiences of being part of the Lifting Limits programme.
Starting the Lifting Limits programme during the pandemic
A year ago, every school in the country was tackling enormous logistical and operational challenges and we were too, except our challenges were slightly different because our school sits within two NHS Trusts – we serve the long-stay school-aged inpatient communities of Great Ormond Street Hospital and University College Hospital London.
We were happy to be the first school to undertake the initial Lifting Limits training online and so were the hospital colleagues we had invited to join us who included members of the hospital’s Play Team, as well as a Music Therapist and the Children and Young People’s Participation Officer – just some of the other adults who children may meet throughout their stay.
The feedback that came through immediately after the training made it clear it was the right decision to press ahead even with the continued challenges and uncertainty about how we would be operating. ‘Every school needs to do this training!’ and ‘My son’s/daughter’s school needs to do this!’ were common responses to our first couple of hours with Caren.
Auditing whilst distancing and offering blended learning
In the Autumn, we began to audit. All the resources available through Lifting Limits were easily adaptable for our setting. For example, we weren’t using our free-flow Early Years space as children within the hospital were still not allowed to mix but we did spend a lot of time auditing books for that age group instead. We extended our language audit to a month rather than the suggested week due to the more limited contact we were having with children, families and colleagues. Importantly for us, as an all through school, we decided to audit our secondary curriculum – extending the programme from primary to all phases has worked well for us.
With just a few exceptions, almost all the examples of gendered or sexist language heard within the hospital were between adults, strengthening our idea that the Lifting Limits training would be of interest and benefit to any and all adults working with children and young people, not just teachers.
When considered up against the Lifting Limits auditing questions, we discovered that many of our frequently used books evaluated poorly and posed some problems. We had in our collection only 6 books from the recommended list of around 20 so we began the big task of diversifying our library and making it easy for staff to access and use – not easy for us as we have to laminate each book so that they can be wiped clean and used with pupils in different wards.
A real strength found here was our careers offer, where our position within two hospitals is of enormous benefit. We are able to promote careers in science and medicine through inviting a balance of men and women from different teams around the hospitals to talk to pupils. The hospital’s ‘Research Awareness Week’ and ‘Hand Hygiene Day’ are both educational and fun for pupils and give them a chance to see gender stereotypes around career choices being dispelled right before their eyes.
Celebrating women in science and medicine
Teaching about both hospitals’ history also provides us great opportunities for championing women’s contributions to science and medicine and challenging stereotypes. Princess Tsehai Selassie, daughter of Emperor Heile Selassie, was a roll-your-sleeves-up princess who trained to be a nurse at GOSH in the 1930s and asked not to be given any special treatment simply because of her royal status. At UCH, the gynaecology, maternity and neo-natal unit is named after Elizabeth Garrett Anderson – Britain’s first female doctor and founder of ‘The School of Medicine for Women’, who had to fight prejudice from men who opposed her career her whole life long.
As we reach the end of this school year, we’ve shared with our school Governors how far we’ve come on the programme and we are now looking to share some of our audit findings and future plans with the Great Ormond Street Hospital’s Women’s Forum as well as other smaller teams at each site. We are so pleased to have started the programme, even during such a challenging time for our school, and we are looking forward to developing our gender equality work even further in the next school year.