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Saturday, 4 August, 2001, 23:47 GMT 00:47 UK
Sick children keep up online
Computers
Children have kept up with lessons using computers
By BBC News Online's Katherine Sellgren

Attending a mainstream secondary school was something 14-year-old Alexandros Theophilou and his mother could only have dreamt about just six months ago.

Alexandros - who suffers from a rare speech and language disorder - had been out of class since 1996, but is now happily settled in a mainstream school in Barnet, north London.

Alexandros and his family believe his success and progress are down to the lessons he has completed over the past year with Gridlink.

Gridlink is the name of an online learning service provided by the charity Present - formerly called the National Association for the Education of Sick Children.

The service uses fax, e-mail and the internet to help youngsters - who are unable to attend school - keep on top of the national curriculum.

Each pupil, aged between eight and 18, is assessed and then receives individually designed lessons from specialist tutors, who keep in touch by phone and e-mail.

Children worry about going back to school when they've missed a lot and so being able to fill in the gaps really helps

Dr Carolyn Skilling, Present director
The charity also provides computers, books and CD-ROMs.

"They send you work through e-mail and you print it out and then you do it on paper and send it to them or scan it," Alexandros explained.

"After a week or so they tell you how much you got right.

"It's not bad, it helps with work at school - they do maths, English, science, everything you do at school," he said.

Confidence

Alex's mother, Sofia-Chezene, is delighted with her son's progress since he joined up with Gridlink.

"What Gridlink gave him back was his confidence and that was what he really lacked. If it wasn't for Gridlink he would have gone to a special needs school," Sofia said.

"He went back into school and made friends and when he came back from school he was smiling - I can't tell you," she smiled.

Alexandros sat his SATs in the summer without any specialised help and now feels like everyone else, she said.

"Now they're putting him in for GCSEs and this was something I thought would never ever happen."

Contemporary work

Gridlink aims to give sick children the same level of work as their peers, so they can "slot back" into school lessons with ease.

Sofia believes this went a long way to boosting Alexandros's confidence.

"Alex always said people gave him baby work, but Gridlink was giving him Year 9 work so when he got to school he was doing similar work to what they were doing.

"Luckily for Alex he's good with the computer, so using it to his advantage is what Gridlink has done.

"They realised he was quite natural with it and they found that he could access information much better on the computer than from books," she said.

Time in hospital

Sofia is so encouraged by Alexandros's progress since using Gridlink, she is banking on it to help her youngest son, George, who has to endure frequent stays in hospital.

George, who is eight, has multiple allergies to foods and chemicals and is taken into hospital for up to four weeks every three months.

"He's going to miss an awful lot of schooling and he's really going to need Gridlink - there's no way he's going to get through his education without it.

"And of course you can get social problems as a result - when children are not at school through illness they can develop behavioural problems, but this often just stems from missing out on education," Sofia said.

Small charge

Gridlink charges a small fee for its service, which is provided by volunteer teachers who also work in schools.

Director of Present, Dr Carolyn Skilling, said: "Our job is to help them fill in the gaps - it's the local authority's job to get them back to school".

"Children worry about going back to school when they've missed a lot and so being able to fill in the gaps and do what their peers are doing really helps," Dr Skilling said.

For information about Gridlink, e-mail gridlink@rmplc.co.uk

See also:

06 Nov 00 | Education
08 May 00 | Education
19 May 00 | Education
11 Jun 00 | Education
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