Technology will transform lives of pupils with SEN, says Minister

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The Government is to finance school trials of assistive technology which it says will help “level the playing field” for pupils with SEN and disabilities. 

Set to include up to 100 schools across the country, the trials will include innovations such as eye-gaze technology to aid communication for those with severe motor impairments, and speech recognition and text-to-speech software to support pupils with dyslexia.

Launching the initiative at the Bett 2020 show, the Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Minister Chris Skidmore claimed the programme will help identify technologies that can help remove barriers for pupils with SEN and disabilities, and enable them to access the curriculum in ways that were not previously possible. “Harnessing the power of modern technology can help us change and transform lives and unlock the potential of every child”, he said.

Running from April 2020 until July 2021, the programmes will assess the effectiveness of different types of assistive technology and identify best practice in using these solutions to support the learning of pupils with SEN. 

The Government has pledged an initial investment of £300,000 to fund the trials, as part of its wider proposed investment of £10 million through the Department for Education’s EdTech Strategy, announced in April 2019. The Strategy seeks to promote collaboration between tech firms and the education sector to create solutions to key education challenges, including: promoting the use of technology to improve opportunities for pupils with SEN; using technology to reduce the time teachers spend marking and preparing homework; and examining the use of apps to improve literacy and communication skills for disadvantaged children.   

The new assistive technology trials will run alongside the development of a network of demonstrator schools and colleges to support peer-to-peer learning in the use of technology, to be launched in spring 2020. These will be supported by a consortium consisting of the London Grid for Learning, The Education Foundation and the Sheffield Institute of Education.

Responding to Mr Skidmore’s announcement, the CEO of the British Dyslexia Association, Helen Boden, highlighted the importance of early adoption of the right assistive technology for children with dyslexia, and the use in schools of technology that is becoming common in the workplace to aid young people’s transition to work. She welcomed the Government “moving in this direction” but cautioned that assistive technology is not a replacement for early diagnosis and specialist support for dyslexia. “Government cuts to education funding mean that availability of these vital services is poorer than at any time in recent memory”, she said.

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