DfE's technology blind spot blights new SEN reforms, warns BATA
The 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.”
The 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.”