Changing times


How ICT is being used to support learners with SEN in the classroom

I have been an ICT SEN advisor for many years, and this has put me in contact with some wonderful children and some wonderful families. I have also worked with some great schools. However, the current economic situation is impacting on the way we all do things. While previously the “expert” specialist would come in to provide a complete solution covering assessment, provision and monitoring, schools are now having to do ICT support with the help of the specialist SEN service of the local authority.

In order to provide a good practise solution to meeting individual needs, schools need to have the following pre-requisites in place:

  • effective SENCO management
  • effective class teacher management of support staff
  • on-going training for support staff
  • good, regular ICT technical support.

Get the above right and the successful embedding of ICT in the classroom setting can take place. Effective SENCO management means taking an overview of support staff and their training so that key messages about support can be given. A support role is a complex one requiring the following factors:

  • empathy – the ability to see things from the pupils point of view
  • facilitation of the pupil’s ability rather than taking over and doing most of the work for them
  • differentiation rather than normalisation – not trying to make pupils with additional needs “fit in” to the class to be “like everyone else”. In some cases, for example for those with physical difficulties, they can never be so. It is about seeing ways around problems, working with the pupil to find the right way of working for them, and making the work accessible, by breaking it down into smaller steps.

The class teacher has a key role in this process to ensure that needs are being met. It should never be left to support staff to run the pupils’ learning objectives and manage day-to-day access to class activities. Key to this relationship is for the SENCO to make time for both the class teacher and the support staff to meet at least once a term for medium-term planning. This can ensure that pupils with additional needs can have their needs considered ahead of time, that appropriate planning can take place, and that any potential access difficulties can be identified and acted upon well in advance.

Thinking outside the box is needed in education, now more than ever, as the Government is not likely to provide any extra funding at a time like this. As with all things political, another kind of bus will come along with yet another completely different agenda to follow – remember Every Child Matters? And the one thing pupils with additional needs must have is consistency of approach and continuity. These pupils require more time to acquire skills; a fast-paced teaching approach, coupled with a fast-paced curriculum to get through, would be tantamount to disaster and could increase the likelihood of exclusion from mainstream settings.

So, with all these push and pull factors at play, what can be done by schools to support their pupils with ICT? The “bring your own device (BYOD) into school initiative means that pupils can bring their own ICT into the classroom. Managed properly, and with the right safeguards in place, this could be really effective. Things like acceptable user agreements with parents, that clarify the respective responsibilities, will be needed to ensure that the process works for both home and school. Of course, such initiatives will give IT departments in secondary schools a headache to deal with. So maybe separate wifi systems will have to be used more openly – many secondary schools have multiple system of wifi available for students and staff. In addition, with more cloud-based software being used, issues of connectivity and security will be increasingly important.

Making ICT work for pupils

Another avenue to consider is effective screening of pupils to ensure that they possess the necessary skills and abilities for using individual ICT equipment at school. By this, I mean the promotion of keyboard skills for all. Often, I meet pupils who cannot use ICT because they can’t type. Yet this is a skill that can be taught, albeit slowly for some. While I understand the question many people have about why children should use a nineteenth century method to access a twenty-first century tool, keyboarding will continue to be with us as long as there are keyboards. Many mobile devices require a different kind of keyboard skill as words can be built by sliding across the keys rather than by pressing them. Speech recognition and touch access are coming of age as computer interfaces (even on mobile devices) and they will become more and more important in years to come. Pupils will interact with technology using speech, touch and gesture movements. A visit to a local computer or AV store will reveal the speech and motion technology already being used on TVs. At present, these technologies only work well in quiet, personal spaces, like the home, but speech and motion technologies will one day be used extensively in schools.

Of course these new ways of interacting with technology will not suit all pupils. Individual pupils need to be assessed for their suitability to certain technologies, and for how these will help them to meet their needs. Certainly at a secondary level, we have to find out which technologies suit which pupils.

Having access to and understanding the latest technologies could prove to be a vital role for independent ICT SEN consultants. SENCOs will always be important in assessing needs but where do they acquire the necessary skills and knowledge of ICT? Around England, local authorities are moving from individual experts to working in teams. Training will be important for all concerned, and it is likely that technology suppliers will have an important part to play in this.

ICT offers so much potential to provide individual support that meets the needs of pupils. Indeed, ICT support can be essential for many pupils with additional needs. Using ICT can also help with independent learning and building the self-esteem of these pupils.

My experience suggests that it is parents and school support staff who do the most to support pupils with individual ICT equipment. Class teachers, though, have the responsibility to ensure that they are in control of how pupils with additional needs use ICT in their teaching and learning programmes. Without good and regular ICT technical support, any individual intervention can become redundant if it isn’t working properly. With all the right elements in place, though, ICT can play a big role in empowering pupils with additional needs.

Further information

Myles Pilling worked in teaching for over 30 years and is a specialist ICT SEN consultant:

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