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Team effort makes children’s PE lessons a hospital first

Children undergoing cancer treatment are accessing tailored PE lessons - thought to be the first of their kind in the country - thanks to a pioneering initiative from a hospital school that will eventually move into Cambridge Children's Hospital.

Pilgrim Pathways School, which provides education for children and young people with complex mental and physical health needs during their hospital stay, is providing expertise and funding to help put PE on Addenbrooke's Hospital's school curriculum, working alongside other key partners.

The initiative will continue to help more children from across the East of England access PE when our specialist hospital opens, that is bringing mental and physical health services, research and education together for the first time, and a ‘whole child’ approach to caring.

WATCH: Patient Danilo and mum Emma talk about the benefits of PE lessons


Also involved are KICK, a local charity working with local schools and organisations to deliver tailored sporting programmes, Addenbrooke’s-based Brainbow, the UK's first rehabilitation service for children with brain tumours, and Addenbrooke’s Paediatric Inpatient Physiotherapy Team.

Inpatient Paeds Physio Team
Addenbrooke’s inpatient paediatric physiotherapy team, L to R are Jonny Littlewood, Helen Starace, Sarah Cawood, Stephanie Davies, Georgia Loft, Colin Hamilton

There are many benefits of physical activity, both for mental and physical health.

For children undergoing treatment for cancer, and requiring long hospital stays, meeting the recommended levels of physical activity can be a challenge for a number of reasons.

By offering PE, the ambition is to ‘normalise physical activity’ within an inpatient setting, which can often become very medicalised, and even scary with drains, tubes and equipment.

Becca Knowles, Brainbow’s specialist paediatric physiotherapist
Becca Knowles, Brainbow’s specialist paediatric physiotherapist

Brainbow’s specialist paediatric physiotherapist, Becca Knowles, said: “The challenges of incorporating PE into the curriculum in a hospital school setting results in a missed opportunity for children to optimise their development.

"There are huge health benefits associated with being physically active; including, but not limited to cardiovascular health, bone health and mental health, in addition to reducing side effects of some treatments, reducing infection risk and even improving treatment outcomes, so it really needs to be a priority.”

Since the introduction of this initiative the response and uptake from patients, parents and staff has been a resounding success. One of my personal highlights has been experiencing the laughter, enjoyment and enthusiasm towards movement and being active.

Becca Knowles

Pilgrim Pathways School head teacher, Nadine Gooding-Hébert, who is among those championing Cambridge Children’s Hospital said: “As a school we are committed to delivering a broad and balanced curriculum where PE is present.

"For this reason we were keen to support Becca, the OT, and physio team in their vision for normalising physical activity and enabling the ward teams to feel more confident in supporting it.

"When children are staying in hospital, they often feel marginalised from their everyday lives and peer groups. Being able to access a broad and balanced curriculum gives them the chance to re-connect with their 'normal' life."

Nadine Gooding-Hébert
Nadine Gooding-Hébert

We hope that the increased space and new facilities at Cambridge Children’s Hospital will enable us to provide further opportunities to young people.

Nadine Gooding-Hébert
Zoe Cross
Zoe Cross

Pilgrim Pathways School and KICK, PE coach, Zoe Cross, said:

I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to deliver national curriculum PE to young people who haven’t had the chance to take part previously.

It’s amazing to see the positive impact 15 minutes of physical activity has on these young people, and witnessing their mood improve and their abilities increase has been a wonderful experience

Zoe Cross