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the highest in Europe,” said Mark McCusker, chairman of BATA and chief executive of assistive software company Texthelp. “Technology will help the government

in its aim of reducing the proportion of children classed as SEN by helping all children with their learning. There is a role for assistive technology to keep people out of the special category.” The eff ective use of technology depends

on teachers with the skills to make best use of it. However, despite initiatives to improve teacher training in this area, there are still shortcomings. For example, over half of teachers polled

by the Driver Trust for a report called Fish in the Tree received no training on dyslexia. However 84% of respondents also said they thought it was important that teachers are trained in teaching children with dyslexia. McCusker’s argument is backed up by

government data which shows that children with special educational needs have doubled their exam performance in recent years. The number of children who passed

students have in working with pen and paper, manipulating formulae and symbols or interacting with graphical information. Advances in technology, which have

seen the appearance of a new generation of innovative applications, have combined with signifi cant changes in the way assistive technology is delivered to learners. The Children and Families Act,

introduced in March, has ended SEN statements and replaced them with school- based education, health and care plans covering children up to the age of 25. The streamlined system is backed

by a single assessment process and the option of personal budgets for families of children with SEN to spend on support for their education. The changes, hailed as the biggest

shake-up in the system for 30 years, are intended to cut bureaucracy and have been welcomed by those providing assistive technology to children with SEN. In future, money will be focused on

children rather than schools, who were tempted to spend the cash for SEN on general items such as buildings. The Act also signals a move back towards special schools and away from including disabled children in mainstream education. “Currently, some one fi fth of children in the UK are classifi ed with SEN: that must be

GCSEs (including English and Maths) with a good grade between 2007 and 2011 rose from 10% to 22%, according to data gathered under the Special Educational Needs Act. The proportion of those with hearing impairments reaching that standard rose by 46%; visual impairments by 37%; multi-sensory impairments by 85%; and physical disabilities by 48%. However, the pressure is on to make both GCSE and A-level exams more accessible to disabled pupils. Last year, a change in access arrangements for GCSE, A-level and vocational qualifi cations allowed text-to-speech and screen reader tools to be used by candidates in all exams, including those assessing reading. A number of organisations are working to ensure the PDF-based exam papers are compatible with assistive technology. Standards and guidelines on the production of PDF for use in exams are currently being drafted. BATA is planning an event to raise awareness of the standards. In the longer run making exam papers truly accessible may involve redesigning papers and calling on devices such as touch tablets to enable access to them.

There is no shortage

of potential users for assistive technology. There are around 1.5m children with special needs in England. In many cases the school receives funding for specialist equipment for a specifi c child but the equipment or technology can be shared with others. Last year, changes in legislation meant

that, for the fi rst time, Department for Education funding went straight to schools rather than via the local authority. From this budget, schools are

expected to meet the low-cost needs of pupils with high-incidence SEN, and contribute towards the costs of assistive technology for pupils with severe SEN. A further 500,000 students in further

education and 200,000 in higher education have declared a disability. While provision for further education students is ad hoc and mostly covered by colleges themselves, university students can apply for disabled students’ allowances (DSAs) which cover equipment and non-medical help. Last year the practice of providing

students entitled to claim for DSAs with computers came under scrutiny in a consultation by BIS, but for the moment the threat that funding may be withdrawn has been lifted. Although technology is invaluable

in opening up access to learning for students with a range of disabilities, there are still inequities in its provision. In a complicated and often inconsistent

system, some learners receive extensive and appropriate support while others struggle to get the help that they need. iE


McCusker BATA


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