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Home Inclusion Inclusion Government SEN shake-up fails to exploit technology

Government SEN shake-up fails to exploit technology

DfE's technology blind spot blights new SEN reforms, warns BATA
Mark McCuskerThe Coalition Government has come in for more criticism for its lack of understanding about technology for learning. Its plans for the biggest shake-up in special education needs for a generation has overlooked the benefits of technology, according to the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA), and they could miss out helping the majority of children with special needs.

“The paper essentially overlooks the potential for assistive technology to enhance lives and improve educational outcomes for children with special needs,” says Mark McCusker, chairman of BATA. “In addition, assistive technology has the potential to save money, which in a times of austerity, surely should rank highly."

The Government's reform plans are contained in the report “Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability – Progress and next steps”, announced by children's minister Sarah Teather MP. They will form the basis of the new Children and Families bill. A draft bill is expected over the summer for "consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny."

The reforms will give parents a new legal right to buy in specialist SEN and disabled care for their children. Parents, rather than local authorities, get the option to control personal budgets for their disabled children. But nowhere in this radical vision is there any recognition of the potential of technology to bring benefits to learners with disabilities.

'Emphasis on profound disabilities misses the cognitive, non-visible' – the majority

BATA, which represents leading assistive technology organisations, professionals and users, feels that the Department for Education has failed to grasp a key point.

Mark McClusker, who is also CEO of Texthelp Systems Ltd, explains: "There is a strong focus in the Government’s response to the public consultation on its green paper on more profound disabilities with relatively little emphasis on cognitive, non-visible disabilities. However, children with cognitive disabilities account for the biggest proportion of the SEN group: many assistive technologies offer great potential to improve academic performance for this group, for example, assistive technology has helped deliver improvements of up to 40 per cent in reading comprehension within a targeted SEN group.”

Ian LitterickThe organisation has given a qualified welcome to the proposal to give the NHS Commissioning Board a core responsibility for augmentative and alternative communication aids. “If this brings better provision for children with severe communication difficulties that will certainly be valuable," says BATA council member Ian Litterick, founder of iansyst Ltd, "but this is a tiny fraction of those who can benefit from more standard, mainstream assistive devices and software.

“In an era when technology is so important to all our daily lives, it is a terrible waste to under-emphasise the value, the empowerment, the learning and above all the independence that technology can bring to children with special needs. Often this technology is quite mainstream and quite low cost.”

“Support and aspiration: A new approach to special educational needs and disability – Progress and next steps"  
Texthelp Systems Ltd  

Comments (1)
1 Tuesday, 19 June 2012 22:02
Sean O'Sullivan
Bit late getting to this posting but here goes... I'd absolutely agree re the lack of focus on people with cognitive learning difficulties, though I'm less sure that the government is addressing the needs of those with the most profound needs adequately.
I think that the principles of personal control and management of the budget to provide for the individual's needs are highly desirable, but as in so many areas (for example the recent consultation [?] on school funding reform), the devil is in the detail. The likelihood is that as funding becomes ever more connected with label-led categories of need, based on assessment by commercial providers, there will emerge a parellel industry catering to formulaic packages of provision. While failing to deliver on the genuine need for personalised provision, it will create the impression of a national focus on meeting people's special needs and will effectively silence views opposed to the prevailing system.

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