- The SEND Code of Practice (2015) states that it is every teacher’s responsibility to ensure that barriers to accessing the curriculum are removed for all children in their classes. Technology may be able to help.
- There are three main functions for assistive technology in a classroom: to assess skills and needs; to provide extra individualised tuition and practice; to act as an ‘enabler’ to help a child access normal classroom teaching.
- It is important that SBMs understand what role the technology they are funding is expected to fulfil.
- SENCOs and SBMs can seek advice from various sources to help them navigate this complex area.
- Used appropriately, assistive technology can improve motivation, develop independence and improve skills and work output.
The World Health Organisation defines assistive technology as: ‘Any device or system that allows individuals to perform tasks they would otherwise be unable to do, or increases the ease and safety with which tasks can be performed.’
The Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0–25 years states that it is every teacher’s responsibility to ensure that barriers to accessing the curriculum are removed for all children in their classes. The use of technology is often recommended as a possible way forward.
There are three main functions for assistive technology in a classroom:
- Technology can help assess skills and needs, for example, dyslexia screening assessments such as Lucid LASS and LADS.
- It can provide extra individualised tuition and practice, for example, Nessy, WordShark and NumberShark.
- It can act as an ‘enabler’ to help a child access normal classroom teaching, for example, Inspiration, Dragon Dictate, WordQ+SpeakQ, a tablet connected to the classroom interactive whiteboard or a sound field amplification system in a class-room.
It is important that SBMs understand what role (or roles) the technology they are funding is expected to fulfil. It is not always necessary to use the most expensive assistive technology. Sometimes, a ‘low-tech’ alternative, including support from a teaching assistant, can be as effective or more so.
As we all know, technology is a fast-moving area. Not so long ago, many local authorities (LAs) provided a specialist assistive technology service. A specialist would visit schools, assess children for their assistive technology needs and often provide communication aids and assistive technology devices to support pupils. Unfortunately, many LAs no longer provide such services and schools must find their own route to private contractors and new funding streams. With increasing academisation of schools, SENCOs and SBMs can find themselves navigating this complex area alone, and sometimes in competition with each other.
Some LAs have retained some centralised SEN services and can be a useful first contact. Various companies and independent individuals can also provide assessment and advice. Peripatetic occupational therapists are often able to assess and provide good advice.
Similarly, speech and language therapists and teachers of the deaf are able to make recommendations for individual children, but the way these services run and are financed varies from region to region.
There is also a plethora of online resources, many of which are free, which can be utilised by schools if they know how to find the most appropriate technology.
Securing the best assistive technology for any pupil can be a minefield for SENCOs to navigate. Sometimes schools have been convinced by a sales team to invest, for example, in expensive speech-to-text programmes, only to find that these are too complicated for many students with SEN to use.
Increasingly, parents may offer to provide, for example, a tablet or speech-to-text software for their own child, but this is only possible for the financially better off. It also has knock-on implications for the school in terms of insurance for such devices and what happens when a child leaves the school.
Parent-funded technology needs to be compatible with existing school systems, and teachers and children are likely to need some time to learn how to use the technology effectively.
A consequence of schools being free to buy in their own technologies is that neighbouring schools may operate different IT and email systems. Parents may provide something they believe will sup-port their child, only to become frustrated by the school’s or their child’s inability to implement expensive technology effectively.
Additional complications arise when school IT systems, hardware and software are inferior to the technology children have at their fingertips on their own smart phones, particularly in secondary schools.
Used well, with appropriate training for staff and pupils, assistive technology can improve motivation, develop independence and improve skills and work output.
Technology support for learning can be looked at in terms of three levels:
- Universal support benefits all pupils and includes suitably fast and consistent WiFi, computers and laptops that work, and interactive white boards.
- Targeted support includes technology bought to support a specific group of learners. This can include a sound field or sound-proofing in a classroom for those with hearing impairments, or spell-checkers and predictive text programmes for those with literacy difficulties.
- Specific support for an individual might include a tablet or camera to provide photographic instead of written records, or a switch to enable an individual to use a keyboard.
Depending on the size of the school, some ‘targeted support’ technology will be for specific pupils. The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) says that if a technology is right for a particular dyslexic individual, it will be right for students without dyslexia as well.
SENCOs appear to make their decisions on a case-by-case basis, often relying on word of mouth recommendations from other SENCOs or their own online research, and in conjunction with SBMs, depending on available funds. Sometimes a child’s statement or education, health and care plan will specify technological support but not how it is to be funded.
In the end, there is no ‘right’ answer. Each individual and each school is unique. But if SENCOs and SBMs can work together to find the best technological solution for the children in their care, then they can feel that they are doing their best to remove barriers to learning.
- Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0–25 years, Dfe, 2015: http://bit.ly/SEND-C-of-P
Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:
About the author
Rosie Eachus has been a qualified speech and language therapist for 26 years. She has run storytelling groups in mainstream primary schools and is currently working at a senior school supporting pupils with dyslexia, dyspraxia and mild ASD.