TMSEN12: The Critical Debate

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It's almost time for TeachMeet SEN 2012! Last minute tickets available here.

Signups for TeachMeet SEN 2012 have gone really well. School, University and Local Authority staff have signed up from across the UK to come along, network, learn and present this Saturday in Leicester.
Our TeachMeet focuses on practice that works for learners with Special Educational Needs – learning difficulties or difficulties which make it harder to learn or access education. According to 2010 Governement figures, approximately 21% of all pupils in England where identified as having SEN.
TeachMeet SEN 2012 follows the traditional format of practitioners talking about and demoing practice that works, in 7 minute micro presentations or 2 minute nano presentations.

 

We will also be hosting a debate, with opportunities for both delegates and at distance participants to join in – looking at the broader strategic level issues and priorities. Our panelists are:

 

Sal Cooke, Director of JISC Techdis, one of the leading UK advisory services on technologies for inclusion. Sal has overall responsibility for the strategic focus and direction of JISC Techdis as guided by funders and stakeholders, ensuring it continues to be the pragmatic voice of inclusion and accessibility and promotes the innovative use of technologies, to support users within education, business and community sectors across the UK.

 

John Galloway, an ICT/SEN Advisor in Tower Hamlets, a consultant to a number of special schools going through BSF across London and Essex, and a freelance writer with several books and many articles to his name. He has been using computers with learners with a broad range of special needs since the mid-1980s and still gets excited by what technology can enable them to do. 
 

 

Bev Evans (@bevevans22/@TES_SEN) is the new Subject Leader of SEN Resources at TES – and spends time sourcing and creating resources and guidance to help support teachers, who have pupils with SEN, within the classroom. She also spends time visiting schools and events to find out what sort of resources practitioners are currently looking for to help support their work at school and beyond.

 

Our panellists have been asked to set out the current agenda for technologies for inclusion, and present and defend the issues and areas they have identified as current national priorities.

Our speakers have outlined their priorities – what do you think? Which of the panelist priorities resonate most strongly with you? Do you think there is a more pressing issue? Let us know and join in the debate by voting for the priorities you think are the most important, or contributing your own suggestions, either when you vote or in the comments below.

Sal Cooke:

1. Rethinking 'Assistive Technology

What is Assistive Technology in 2012? – or should we now call it something else?

As more and more of the mainstream technologies, including some free or very low cost solutions are displaying and integrating features that can aid our learners in a myriad of ways,  how do we need to think and re think what we “buy” download or access as assistive technologies?    

The Assistive Technology companies themselves are now operating in a very different world and equally so are schools, colleges and universities and of course so are learners and their families.  As a recent addition to the BATA Council I am very aware of the different pressures in this economic climate for both industry, and from my role as Director of JISC TechDis for the learning providers where the impact of technology (financial or pedagogical) can have such an impact on learners with specific needs.  

2. Keeping staff stay up to speed with the pace of technology practice and development

What about the people?  How will they gain the skills and knowledge about Assitive Technology in this ever changing world?

With the advent of apps, tablets, gesture based gaming and all manner of hand held devices – how do we expect staff to keep pace and obtain best value, the best information, and most of all the best for their learners?

The moves within the industry to more and more freemium offers and services could radically help schools and Local Authority budgets – but how do we know? Where are the sources of information? Do we need to be radical with mandatory training  - what about teaching and learning, and budgetary implications?

The recent post-16 Ofsted review recommended that the Department for Education and the Department of Business Innovation and Skills should jointly create a database of assistive technologies – is that a viable or desirable solution?

John Galloway

3. Accessible by default

With disability becoming more prevalent, why is accessibility optional?

We know that about twenty per cent of school children will have some sort of SEN, about half of them struggling with text. We also know that computer systems aren’t specially made for school children, they are made for average adults – it’s Microsoft Office, after all. But we also know that in Europe we have an ageing population which is leading to increasing numbers of people with disabilities, approximately 80m at the moment. And we know that adopting a principle of ‘inclusive design’ makes life easier for everyone.

So why do we have ‘Accessibility options’ on our computers, instead of ‘Accessibility by default?’ Many aspects of improving access – high contrast, variable colour schemes, enhancing the cursor – would work for most of us  (if we knew about them) These should be the defaults.

4. Anti-social networking  

Online communities promise so much for those with SEND, so why aren’t they more accessible?

Those with special needs and disabilities can sometimes find themselves isolated or excluded. Social networking could be a way of mitigating that isolation by both connecting them with others in a similar situation, and a leveller, including them in a world without the usual barriers. Yet there seem to be limited incidences of this happening, probably because:

  • the interface is complex;
  • the medium is predominantly text;
  • families and carers don’t appreciate what it offers.

As it stands, social networking can exacerbate a digital divide, that it could so easily help to bridge.

Bev Evans:

5. Funding for SEN technology in all schools

How do we stop schools from being left behind in the technology stakes?

As technology becomes more and more important in schools around the country what can be done to help those pupils in badly funded areas progress or have the access to the equipment they need? Some areas within Wales are particularly lacking in funding or support in this important area ( I am sure this is true of other areas within the UK too) – is it really good enough that this is still happening in 2012?

6. Bring services to pupils

Why is support for pupils with SEN so patchy across the UK? Is it purely a funding issue or are other things contributing?

In my area of Wales I have always been aware that many parents of children with SEN, in particular those with children who have autism, move into the county to access the provision available. I’m also aware of this  happening between schools across Wales and, from the emails or messages I get through position at the TES, it is obviously something that happens elsewhere in the country too. Why do some school or LAs put less effort into properly supporting and addressing the needs of pupils with SEN? Is it always a funding issue or do other factors come into play?

You can vote here for the priorities you agree with, suggest additional priorities or leave your comments below.

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