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Classroom robots to stand in for children too ill to go to school

PUBLISHED: 16:11 21 July 2020 | UPDATED: 16:11 21 July 2020

Ryan King in class with the new robot at The Raedwald Trust group of special schools in Ipswich  Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Ryan King in class with the new robot at The Raedwald Trust group of special schools in Ipswich Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Charlotte Bond

It might seem like something more out of a science fiction movie - but these classroom robots will soon be freely moving round Suffolk schools, in a “ground-breaking” change that could revolutionise education.

One of the new desk robots being used by The Raedwald Trust group of special schools in Ipswich  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDOne of the new desk robots being used by The Raedwald Trust group of special schools in Ipswich Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Four telepresence robots have been bought the Raedwald Trust of group of special schools to effectively stand in for children too unwell to attend school in person.

Controlled from their home or hospital bed, the pupils can see, hear and speak to their teachers and classmates through a live feed camera mounted to the pioneering device - almost as if they are there in person.

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Two of the wheel-mounted machines will even be able to transport children around the school, so they can join in with playtimes and lunch breaks with their friends.

The new robot at The Raedwald Trust group of special schools in Ipswich  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDThe new robot at The Raedwald Trust group of special schools in Ipswich Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

The Raedwald Trust believes the machines, though unusual, will mean children with long-term illnesses such as cancer or cystic fibrosis don’t miss out on weeks and months of vital learning.

They also believe it will hugely reduce the isolation felt by young people who are absent for long periods through no fault of their own.

James Benson - headteacher of Parkside Academy and the Ipswich Hospital School, which are part of the Raedwald Trust - said: “Teaching a child with persistent headaches, chronic pain, fatigue or mobility issues, diseases such as cystic fibrosis and cancer, or mental health conditions like anxiety or psychological distress, can be a significant challenge for any school.

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Ryan King in class with the new robot at The Raedwald Trust group of special schools in Ipswich  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDRyan King in class with the new robot at The Raedwald Trust group of special schools in Ipswich Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

“We want to help every school in Suffolk to overcome barriers that prevent these pupils from engaging fully in school life and give them the best possible chance of an excellent education.

“The robots are a really clever part of achieving this, but there are many other equally important measures that schools can adopt to improve access to education for every pupil with a medical or mental health need.”

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As well as the two wheel-mounted robots, two desk robots will be used for pupils taking shorter-term absences.

Ryan King in class with the new robot at The Raedwald Trust group of special schools in Ipswich  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDRyan King in class with the new robot at The Raedwald Trust group of special schools in Ipswich Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Funding for the devices has come from The Wolfson Foundation.

The robots have been shown to have a positive impact on the wellbeing and learning of children and young people, while also helping children to reintegrate smoothly back into school after treatment.

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Mr Benson added: “For a child with a compromised immune system who might also be suffering from intense tiredness, attending school can be impossible, and this can lead to feelings of isolation and anxiety.

Ryan King in class with the new robot at The Raedwald Trust group of special schools in Ipswich  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDRyan King in class with the new robot at The Raedwald Trust group of special schools in Ipswich Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

“This is truly game-changing technology for children with chronic medical needs who find it physically impossible to attend school.”

Medical Needs in School programme

The investment is part of a new initiative being led by the Raedwald Trust to give every school in Suffolk access to specialist training and support to help improve the learning experiences of children and young people medical and mental health conditions.

The Medical Needs in Schools programme was founded in Oxfordshire in 2017 by the Oxfordshire Hospital School and the Children’s Psychological Medicine department of the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Kate Kingsford, lead teacher at Ipswich Hospital School, with the new robot at The Raedwald Trust group of special schools in Ipswich. Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDKate Kingsford, lead teacher at Ipswich Hospital School, with the new robot at The Raedwald Trust group of special schools in Ipswich. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Raedwald Trust chief executive Angela Ransby co-founded the Oxfordshire initiative when she was headteacher of the Oxfordshire Hospital School.

The Medical Needs in Schools programme will launch in October and organisers from the Raedwald Trust are inviting all schools to sign up for free to attend a series of expert-led, online information and training sessions.

Schools will also receive guidance in evaluating and improving their own provision for children with medical needs.


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