Digital Literacy

Connected Libraries: project summary and recommendations

Library picture

Picture shared under Creative Commons Licence by Skokie Public Library

As ICT Strategy Lead (Children's Capital) at Leicester City Council, I'm responsible for investment, management and development work relating to technology on the city-wide secondary school building programme. The LRC Connect school library project ran as part of our staff development programme, and supports the promotion and development of digital literacy across the city. What follows is the summary of the project.

Many thanks to Lucy Atkins (Leicester City Council), Richard Hall (DMU), Deb Siviter (Library Services for Education), David White (University of Oxford), Laura Taylor (Taylormade Libraries), Lesley Martin (School Library Association), Rachael Guy (Berkhamsted School) for their invaluable support, and a huge thanks to all of the school librarians and library staff who took part.

LRC Connect – Project Summary and Recommendations

The BSF Programme in Leicester includes 23 secondary schools, 2 of which run at multiple sites. All 16 mainstream schools in the Programme will offer on site Library or Learning Resource Centre (LRC) provision. Of these 5 are already complete, 2 are due to open in October 2013, with the remaining projects to be completed by 2015. Levels of provision in the 7 small and SEN schools vary, in relation to library space and staff.

The LRC Connect Project ran from May 2012 to November 2012, supporting the investment being made through the BSF Programme in these spaces, particularly in terms of ICT infrastructure, systems and devices. The project aimed to support schools in ensuring that the potential of their library service and space is realised.

In early 2012, Leicester City Council’s BSF Learner Voice team consulted with 400 young people across Leicester to find out what their school and learning environment priorities were. Learner Voice in Leicester City: Learning Technology Priorities (March 2012) published young people's priorities for learning environments and for technology. ‘Better designed library spaces’ is listed as the second highest priority for improving their learning environments:

Young People identify the school library as an important, unique and valued area within the school. They ask that the BSF Programme look at what the library was for and how it was used.

They want the role of the library to be extended and promoted as a place to relax as well as learn. School libraries are particularly valued as quiet, calm spaces, encouraging and supporting informal learning and learner-directed research.

Library space was identified as supporting both independent individual and group learning, both within and as an extension to the taught curriculum.

Most young people expect the library spaces to offer both digital and physical resources i.e. computers should be available with wifi access. They would like to have support to use the technology and web-based resources for research and learning.

The LRC Connect Project directly responded to this priority. Additionally, it was designed to take forward three of the ICT school priorities in the following ways:

Space and Place

  • Supporting schools in the process of building new school Learning Resource Centre (LRC) or library spaces, or rethinking the use of current spaces.
  • Providing librarians and school leaders with access to library design expertise and information about effective library space design.

Continuing Professional Development and Innovation

  • Providing school librarians across the city with information, support and training about ways of using technology creatively and effectively to support learners, promote services and share resources.
  • Supporting librarians to become connected learners and undertake short projects that supported their own professional development and benefited their school community.

Networked Learning and Communities

  • Providing networking opportunities for school librarians and library staff, and supporting them in connecting to professional associations and expertise.
  • Reviewing the ways in which existing library services connect to and support other departments and projects across the school.
  • Introducing librarians to a range of web based technologies that support collaborative and networked practice.

Project approach

The six month project started in May 2012. All Leicester BSF schools were invited to participate. School Librarians, Learning Resource Centre Managers, and other staff members from 13 city secondary mainstream and 3 of the small and SEN schools attended project events. Many of the participating schools were able to send 2 or 3 representatives to events.

The project consisted of three face to face events, one online meeting and independent project work undertaken by participants. Participants were not required to complete any additional work, but we provided individual support as required for staff that chose to undertake a project.

LRC Connect initial event, De Montfort University – 4 May 2012

The project began with a one day workshop, run in partnership with De Montfort University, for school librarians, Learning Resource Managers and related support staff members. 12 schools took part. The event focused on:

  • The role of the school library or LRC in a digital age
  • Current thinking around school library or LRC design and use of space Digital search, evaluation and study skills for staff and learners
  • The creation of initial project plans staff wanted to complete either independently or in small groups over the next 6 months

Attendees varied in terms of their skills and familiarity with the use of technology to support learners and promote their libraries. All of the attendees were keen to explore the use of technologies to support their roles and to learn about new resources and practices.

Experts from across the UK provided staff with the latest research, thinking and practice. Laura Taylor (Taylormade Libraries) looked at school library design and use of space. David White (University of Oxford) talked about the search, evaluation and study skill strategies learners currently use, and how librarians could help make these more effective. Rachael Guy (Berkhamsted School) shared her experiences of managing a school library, prioritising technology for learning, and supporting learners in using technology effectively.

Representatives from the School Library Association, the national professional body supporting school librarians and libraries, and from Leicestershire Library Services for Education – our local support service, providing schools with books, resources, advice and training, also contributed to the day.

Online meeting, 29 June 2012

This meeting provided participants with an introduction to and the opportunity to use an online conference environment (in this instance, Blackboard Collaborate). 6 schools took part. Attendees used the platform to present and discuss their initial project ideas and progress. Some of the attendees had never used online conferencing, voice or video services before.

LRC meeting, Beaumont Leys School, 17 October 2012

The meeting gave participants an opportunity to visit one of the more recently built school LRCs, and discuss issues relating to library management, layout and technologies. 9 schools took part. Lucy Atkins, Leicester City Council’s Digital Literacy Research Associate, provided the group with an introduction to augmented reality (AR) and QR codes, bringing the group up to speed with some of the ways in which school librarians are using these technologies.

Book IT event, Phoenix Square, 21 November 2012

Staff from Secondary, Junior and SEN schools across the city were invited to attend the project cycle close event, which was run in partnership with Whatever it Takes, the Leicester City reading initiative. The day conference focused on technology for reading and literacy. The day provided LRC Connect group members and staff across the city with an opportunity to hear from and question expert speakers, attend workshops, and network. Representatives from 16 BSF secondary, small and SEN schools attended the Book IT event.

Babington Community College, The City of Leicester College, and Hamilton Community College LRC Connect members were given the opportunity to demonstrate and develop their public speaking skills and promote their schools by presenting their projects to all conference attendees on the main stage.

Workshops for delegates included using and creating e-books, citizen journalism for schools, weblogs and blogging to support literacy, the use of computer games to support reading, and using Twitter to develop Personal Learning Networks.

School based projects

Participants were encouraged to plan short projects that would support the role of their school library and help them develop a range of new skills. These included:

Babington Community College (Rob Povey): Using QR Codes and iPads in the library during induction to help familiarise year 7 pupils with the library.

The City of Leicester College (Madeleine Beach): Creation of a school library blog to showcase students’ book reviews and encourage reading for pleasure.

Fullhurst Community College (Nicola Buttery): Working with e-Reader devices to improve learners reading ability and attitudes towards reading.

Hamilton Community College (Sharon Dilkes): Setting up and managing a Facebook group to support GCSE study and revision skills for Year 11 students.

Sir Jonathan North (Meena Bhatt Vyas): Resources for digital referencing, to support learners in understanding how to consistently and appropriately reference web pages, blog posts and other online information.

You can find more information on the school projects over at the Digitlit Leicester project blog.

Next steps and 3 key recommendations


Leicester schools are committed to matching the infrastructure, systems and technologies we are investing in with innovative and effective library use. Our schools are at different stages in terms of making best use of technologies to support learners, and in ensuring that advice, guidance and support extends to digital practices. Our learners use social networks to discuss their homework, they look for information and resources online, and they complete activities and study in digital environments. It’s important then that schools are able to support learners in using technologies to improve attainment and achievement.

The school library should be a key resource to support study skills, information management, and to promote reading for enjoyment.

Here are our top 3 recommendations to help school leaders ensure their school library service is taking the best possible advantage of technology to deliver services and support whole school improvement.

1. Expertise and support for learners and departments in relation to digital search, evaluation and referencing

Comments made during the project make the fundamental change technology and the internet has made to study and revision skills clear:

Any activity that just involves looking something up isn’t much of a learning activity in the age of Google.

Schools need to focus on enhancing students existing skills and practices – their approaches work, but we can help them understand why and make them even more effective.

School librarians need to be experts in digital search, evaluation and referencing. They need to understand how young people find and use online environments and resources, so that they can support learners to enhance these with a range of evaluation strategies. The school librarian should be able to understand, support and connect the work in this area across all subject areas, so that teaching staff are being consistent with guidance and support.

It is critical schools ensure that the study skill support and advice given to learners also includes digital search, evaluation and referencing. The school librarian is ideally placed to support this, however, where a qualified librarian or equivalent post holder is not in place, a senior member of staff should take responsibility for ensuring consistent and accurate information and support is available to all learners relating to search, evaluation and the appropriate use of digital resources, across all curriculum areas.


Participation in the wider City Council’s Digital Literacy Framework project – Digilit Leicester – will help school staff to reflect on where they are in terms of their knowledge and practice relating to the use of technology to support learners and learning. The framework area Finding, Evaluating and Organising directly addresses search, evaluation and a range of skills relating to the use of digital information and resources.

There are free, high quality online resources to support staff and librarians – for example, the Open University’s Being Digital site houses a collection of short study skill activities, including search, evaluation, communication and sharing online. The Google Search Education site carries resources relating to search and evaluation skills to take staff development forward and activities to support learners.

2. Making the most of library space – whatever your budget

Libraries need to be multi-function spaces – and design and planning needs to reflect this. School libraries need ample storage, shelving and display space; room for fixed computer stations and for mobile device storage; seating and desks for a whole class, and informal seating options for individual study; digital display and presentation technologies (for example, an interactive projector).


In April 2012 we produced and circulated a guide to school library design issues, Designing 21st Century Libraries/Learning Spaces (PDF) (Word).

The SLA run an annual competition for School Library Design. Even if you are not considering entering, the guidance notes are well worth reviewing. Previous competition winners have included a wide range of older as well as new libraries – it rewards innovation, creativity and resourcefulness in the use of making the most of library space.

3. Ensure on-going Professional Development for School Librarians/Learning Resource Centre Staff

Participants enjoyed their engagement with the project, the support we were able to provide, and appreciated the opportunity to learn more about ways in which technology is being used to support school libraries. The ability to network with and interact with other library staff was identified as very beneficial.

It's important that librarians are able to keep up to speed with developments across their field. They need to be familiar with standard library technologies, for example library specific software, as well as the range of technologies, platforms and approaches that can support learners and enhance learners experience of reading, literacy, study and revision skills. Many school librarians take responsibility for supporting accelerated reading schemes. All librarians will have to support students with learning difficulties or disabilities.

Librarians need to be confident and familiar users of technologies and approaches to help learners overcome the range of different challenges they face. We recommend that the ways in which librarians are making use of technology is included in discussions and planning related to the school’s appraisal and evaluation of how the library is supporting the school community. Looking at developing specific new ways of using technologies in the library, with all learners or with targeted groups, and evaluating these, could form part of the school’s yearly strategic plans.


Professional development is not something that should be viewed as just training course attendance. Staff should be encouraged to develop their own independent learning skills, and develop their own professional networks to support on-going development.

One of the Digitlit Leicester Project strands, Technology supported Professional Development, focuses on this, and is designed to support educators and school communities to participate within, develop, create and manage web and mobile-based communities of practice, or Personal Learning Environments. Engagement in networked learning practices supports the development of digital literacy, and ensures that people can create and engage in networks that are specific to their (and their learners!) needs.

An important part of on-going professional development opportunities for the school librarian and resources for the school is membership of a professional association. Is your school benefiting from national and local support, expertise and resources?

Leicestershire Library Services for Education (LSE) – is local support service, providing schools with books, resources, advice and training. Again – feedback from librarians who participated in the project was that membership was very valuable to both them and their schools. LSE user groups meet termly and provide free CPD for all school library staff. City specific network meetings are also being organised by LSE in conjunction with Leicester Libraries.

The School Library Association (SLA) is the national advisory and information service for school libraries and librarians. They provide a wide range of support to members, including at regional level. Feedback from project participants who are members was extremely positive in terms of the quality and usefulness of support offered.


Digital Citizenship

Digital rings

My notes from a  recent interview on Digital Citizenship for TES:

I see digital citizenship as a distinct but overlapping area in relation to digital literacy. Digital literacy is the ability to use, critically engage with and make use of digital tools and environments – it’s not just about supporting learners to understand and engage with the world, but about enabling learners to challenge, shape and change their worlds. Digital citizenship for me addresses political, economic and legal participation in relation to the use of technologies and online environments. It isn’t an ‘add on’ to the area of citizenship as a whole, but a recognition that technologies and digital environments are a part of the real world, and they mediate all aspects of UK life: from meeting partners, finding jobs, contacting the local council, protesting, organising, developing our social and professional networks – the list goes on.

Children and young people grow up and develop their identities in both physical and digital environments. While they might be confident users of mobile and gaming technologies, and online sites like Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and Google, it doesn’t follow that they are socially and politically aware and engaged citizens in these spaces – just as simply being in the physical world doesn’t guarantee they have the tools and self confidence to understand their rights and responsibilities, and to take an active part in their communities and in governance.

Citizenship education is a well articulated and understood area in England, where it has been a part of the curriculum for over two decades. It’s defined by the Citizenship Foundation as “enabling people to make their own decisions and to take responsibility for their own lives and their communities.”

Many of the issues addressed through citizenship education are inseparable from the use of technology and digital environments, and I’d like to see citizenship within the curriculum reflect the realities of learners lives. Although it obviously depends on the teacher delivering the curriculum, typically schemes of work and lessons don’t address rights and responsibilities in digital environments, or political and  legal  issues online, or identity, conflict, and communities in online environments. The internet is still broadly framed as a place to get resources from, rather than as an active site of political life.

There isn’t a transparent relationship between how we act, are acted on and represent ourselves in physical environments and how we act, are acted on and represent ourselves in digital environments.  While most of the key concepts of citizenship education apply to activities in online environments, a range of digital-specific issues have been left largely under explored. I’d include issues around the use of technologies for mainstream and grassroots political organisation and representation, the use of technology for governance and decision making, freedom of speech and censorship, digital copyright laws, privacy and data protection, harassment and discrimination. These are all issues that impact on young people’s lives and their everyday use of technology that we aren’t addressing at national level.

Citizenship is a social responsibility. Any citizenship agenda that stops at ‘behaving well’ is potentially a dangerous one – the point of citizenship is not just to understand and do what you are expected to do by your community and by law. Citizenship should be about equipping young people to actively and critically engage in the local, national and international agendas and decision making that affect their lives and the lives of their communities. There are specific social, economic and political differences, as well as significant similarities, when it comes to rights and responsibilities in physical and digital environments. The social and legal challenges that life online pose are substantial and changes in these areas are rapid. The integration of mobile, gaming and web based technologies into everyday life means that new social norms are emerging and being argued over now.  Privacy is one of the key examples of this. What is a reasonable expectation of privacy, at time when many people are publishing personal information about themselves online? How do laws that aim to regulate and monitor online and mobile activity in order to protect people impact on our individual rights to and expectation of privacy? How are companies whose income is based on the tracking and selling of user activity data regulated?

Schools have a critical role to play and I would love to see citizenship education really get to grips with digital issues. Parents and carers, as citizens themselves, are having to engaging with digital citizenship issues, and I think there is a huge role to play for parents and schools supporting young people in using and understanding the ways in which technology can help them organise – school councils have a vested interest in active engagement in the digital citizenship agenda. Young people are already using Facebook, Twitter and mobile technologies to effectively organise campaigns, protests and establish their own interest groups. How are we supporting them in this? What can we learn from them?

I’d identify three priorities in taking forward digital citizenship education. Firstly, schools need to understand the importance of digital literacy for all staff members, as well as for all learners. If a school doesn’t have an appreciation of the critical role technology can play in learning and teaching (and that it already does play in informal learning and in the social life of its community) it’s missing out on key opportunities to support all learners. Secondly, national and local citizenship education needs to integrate digital citizenship into curriculum design, resources and delivery. Thirdly, students need to be supported in their use and understanding of mobile and web based technologies, tools and environments for organising, collaborating and for governance.

Developing digital literacies in practice


Picture Credit: Scaffolding by Victoria Pickering

Last week I took part in The Guardian Higher Education Network's Developing Digital Literacy in HE live chat. How we defining digital literacy obviously shapes how we take work in this area forward, and I added the definition I use to the conversation:

Currently, my favourite definition is the one Sarah Knight uses here and in the recent Guardian article:

digital literacy defines those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society

The definition I use most frequently is based on the version introduced by the wonderful Tabitha Newman in her still pertinent 2009 presentation Digital Literacy literature review: from terminology to action:

The 'short hand' definition I most frequently use is this one:

Digital Literacy =
digital tool knowledge +
critical thinking +
social engagement

My version only changes Tabitha's in the last point – she uses the term 'social awareness' whereas I'd always use the term 'social engagement' or even 'social activism', to highlight the importance of real world practice and activity as critical to socially situated digital literacy. Digital literacy is not just about supporting learners to understand and engage with the world, but about enabling learners to challenge, shape and change their worlds.

JISC adviser Helen Beetham replied to my definition post with a great link and a summery of how we can go about translating our aspirations for digital literacy into practice:

 Hello Josie, thanks for the chance to come out in public and admit to coining that definition – along with my colleagues Allison Littlejohn and Lou McGill, in our report Thriving in the C21st.

More important than our definition, I stick by what we concluded about actually developing digital literacies in practice, that it requires:

– providing authentic contexts for practice, including digitally-mediated contexts
– individual scaffolding and support
– making practices of meaning-making explicit
– anticipating and helping learners manage conflict between different practice contexts
recognising and helping learners integrate their prior conceptions and practices

Anyone doing all that? I thought not. But it's very important to me that the Developing Digital Literacies programme involves groups of staff that have always taken this person-centred, culturally-situated approach to student development i.e. careers/employability staff, and learning development/learning skills staff. As well as student-facing staff in libraries of course.

I'm currently developing and rolling out a city-wide digital literacy programme across Leicester's Secondary Schools, as part of my role with Leicester City Council as ICT Strategy Lead for Children's Capital. One of the approaches I am taking is to work with the schools to talk about and to design a range of activities that support the development of digital literacy in the context of meeting challenges and solving problems faced by school communities. I'll write more about these and the process of supporting them as we get further along – there are some really exciting projects – but in this post I'm going to focus on the framework I'm using with schools to structure conversation around the ways in which developing skills, and reviewing or introducing new policies and processes can meet current needs and support learner outcomes.

The topics have been identified and developed in discussion with schools and with a range of individuals, governing bodies and working groups. They act as development framework markers to frame discussion, activity and research, and to structure the ongoing review of projects and commissioning taking place at individual school and estate-wide level.

The bullet points are indicative of areas that actions might be agreed and developed with schools to address. The majority of the 25 secondary (supporting students between 11 and 16 years old) have completed their first draft of actions and from these a range of activities and projects – either at individual schools, or where shared interests and issues have been identified, across clusters of schools, subject areas, or role.

Space & Place

  • Ensuring the best possible use is made of digital environments in relation to the physical environment of the school buildings and grounds in supporting learning and teaching.
  • Ensuring access and active participation as appropriate for all members of the school community from any location via both school and user owned internet connected devices; recognising that the function and role of the school is not confined to the school grounds and restricted by the school day.
  • Increasing the numbers of parents and carers actively engaging with and contributing to school activities.
  • Ensuring schools’ digital presence supports whole school community development, takes full advantage of engagement opportunities and keeps it’s community well informed of activities.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and Innovation

  • Identifying and addressing ICT training strengths and weaknesses at estate-wide and local school level.
  • Raising the level of skills and confidence across the estate to ensure schools and individual staff are equipped to recognise and take advantage of opportunities for technology to support and enhance learning, teaching and school management.
  • Promoting and supporting learner-centred and learner-led practice and pedagogy.
  • Supporting staff in modelling effective and positive uses of technology for both learners and peers.
  • Targeting the development of staff skills, competencies and confidence to support innovative and effective use of technology by learners.

Network Learning and Communities

  • Supporting staff and learners to participate within, develop, create and manage collaborative web and mobile based networks.
  • Ensuring staff and learners are equipped with the skills to support their own developmental personal learning networks.
  • Supporting and developing collaborative working practices and activities between learners across schools, the city, nationally and internationally, including learner-organised activity.
  • Supporting learners to utilise mobile and social technologies and practices for learning.
  • Embedding a whole community approach to school practice and engagement in decision making.
  • Ensure digital environments are safe and inclusive, support and promote equality of access for all members.

Information Management

  • Supporting a city wide, robust approach to information management school policy and practices which address the management, handling, storage and disposal of data legally, effectively and safety.
  • Managing the move to cloud based services and storage.
  • Planning and support for the management of User Owned Devices and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) across the school estate.
  • Promoting the creation and use of Open Education Resources.
Green ICT

  • Ensuring a robust and accessible approach to Green ICT issues in schools, focusing on reducing unnecessary energy consumption and using technology to support schools in developing a culture of practical engagement with energy reduction.
  • Ensuring that energy consumption data can be easily and effectively used to support the curriculum and evidence the schools commitment to ensuring energy consumption is kept to a minimum.
  • Supporting effective user engagement programmes which allow learners and staff to manage their school environment.

e-Safety and Cyberbullying

  • Ensure robust internal education, policy and processes are in place to effectively address e-safety and cyberbullying with regard to awareness, prevention, reporting, incident reporting, response and sanctions.
  • Ensure that issues are addressed through whole community education and discussion, and responsible and safe use of technologies is addressed across the curriculum, wherever appropriate.
  • Ensure that discussion, planning and accounts for the schools wider responsibility to learners and employees, and activity taking place outside of the school day, premises and networks are recognised and action taken where the school has responsibility/liability.
  • Ensure that e-safety and cyberbullying guidance and activity accounts for the ways in which learners are using technologies, and that information, policy and planning remains up to date and relevant, and that learners are actively involved in shaping and supporting the schools approach.
  • Ensure that the needs of vulnerable learners are identified and met.

TMSEN12: awesomeness, next steps & the debate results

TMSEN12 cafe

TMSEN12 – a TeachMeet event focusing on practice and approaches that work to support learners with Special Educational Needs (SEN) took place on Saturday 28th February. It's fair to say it was an awesome day:

TMSEN12 awesome


TeachMeet SEN 2012 (TMSEN12 for short) focused on practice that works for learners with Special Educational Needs – learning difficulties or disabilities which make it harder to learn or access education. According to 2010 Government figures, approximately 21% of all pupils in England are identified as having SEN.

Credit needs to go to my partner in crime, Jo Badge, and to Leon Cych and Mike McSharry for their stirling support. Most of all, huge thanks has to go to everyone who took part and particularly all the amazing speakers. Thanks also to everyone who joined us by live stream and in Twitter.

TeachMeet SEN 2012 followed the traditional TeachMeet format of practitioners talking about and demoing practice that works, in 7 minute micro presentations or 2 minute nano presentations.

Over 70 school leaders, teachers, trainee teachers, academics and Local Authority officers from Leicester and right across the UK spent their Saturday morning sharing effective practice, resources and generating new ideas.

Not just for SEN learners

TMSEN12 for all

Marc Faulder's tweet "So much at #tmsen12 today is valid for all learners" was a thought echoed by many of the participants, and reflected in the event debate, most explicitly in John Galloway's Accessible by default priority.  As many participants commented, the ideas and resources shared weren't just of benefit to learners with learning difficulties or disabilities – but could be of benefit to all learners. The message of the obvious benefit of putting lessons learnt from and effective approaches with our most disadvantaged learners squarely at the centre of planning and provision was loud and clear. By engaging with tools, resources and planning for SEN learners, we can more effectively support everyone.

Next Steps

I'm hopeful that the day was a valuable one for everyone who was able to take part. The value to, and validation of, participants is a really important aim of any event – it's critical that we support and celebrate our practice and provide opportunities for individual development, networking and sharing.

Modeling good practice is also a critical activity. This was brilliantly done by our speakers, and I very much hope that everyone introduced to the TeachMeet format as a process took away some inspiration for looking at how they approach their own activity scaffolding.

In my closing remarks I asked all participants to think about and let us know about their next steps. This event was inspired by the last TeachMeet Jo and I attended, although it took a little longer than we expected to organise:)

My follow up from the day will be to collect and curate the days outputs to ceate a micro site of the days presentations, talks and links. In the mean time, please do carry on sharing resources under the #tmsen12 tag, and let us know what your next steps are!

While you're waiting, you can check out:

Jo Badge Reflections on TeachMeet for Special Education Needs #TMSEN12

Simon Finch TMSEN12 pictures

& my TMSEN12 pictures

Technologies for Inclusion: The Critical Debate – results

TMSEN12 included a panel debate looking at technologies for inclusion. Sal Cooke, Bev Evans and John Galloway, presented and defended the issues and areas they identified as current national priorities. You can read their priority descriptions here. At distance participants and people at the debate we're invited to comment and vote on the outlined priorities, and here are the vote results:

TMSEN vote results

Sal Cooke's Helping staff stay up to speed with the pace of technology practice and development won the vote by a clear lead. In second place was Bev Evans priority Funding for SEN technology in all schools. In third place was John Galloway's Accessible by default priority.

This was very much in line with the discussion on the day. There was a recognition that many mainstream services, tools and programmes were effectively being used to support SEN learners. There was also a recognition that many schools had been given or had invested in specialist or mainstream services, tools and programmes that could be used in fun, creative and effective ways, but weren't being. While no one disputed the need for parity of funding for SEN learners and schools, there was agreement that the critical issue was ensuring that staff could and were using technology, when appropriate, to enhance and make learning interesting, fun and engaging.

TMSEN12: The Critical Debate


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.