Communications Aids had demonstrated the educational potential of the Internet and this was picked up by the Stevenson Review which recommended:
E-LEARNING MINISTERS’ MEETING
Many pupils have varying degrees of Communication Difficulties. This may lead to them being marginalised within their own institutions or unnecessarily or inappropriately placed in special schools or units. By providing supportive technology, not only can lives could be transformed, but higher aspirations and expectations can also be set by teachers and learners alike. Inclusion can become a reality understood by all.
This paper outlines a major DfES project managed on their behalf by Becta over the next 2 years, supporting LEAs in providing technological aids for pupils to ensure they have a voice and can reflect their true abilities. This is an important project both for recipients of the technology and as a model to deliver support to individuals, impacting directly on their lives and promoting inclusion. It demonstrates many of the key features of a partnership approach aimed at delivering an identified aim. ICT is well established in its support for pupils who are potentially excluded from mainstream education. In recent years Becta has managed a number of projects including:
Communication Aids Project (CAP)
In carrying out this project, important lessons will be learned about a range of issues in particular:
Supporting pupils with communication difficulties will also have resonance for those for whom English is their second language, socially excluded pupils and a whole range of other groups.
Background to the Project
Communication is a broad term: it covers the ability to receive and understand oral and written information as well as the ability to convey information by words, signs or writing.
This project is designed to help pupils who have a significant difficulty in communicating with others. Communication difficulties may be the primary problem for a pupil or form part of a more complex picture (such as where a child has severe cerebral palsy and multiple learning difficulties). Some difficulties may be temporary - such as delayed speech in a child who is otherwise developing normally - whilst others impair the child's ability to learn or carry out physical activities.
The CAP initiative seeks to give support to pupils who have difficulty in:
The Communication Aids Project is an inclusion initiative, enabling many pupils to be included in mainstream classrooms as active participants in their learning and social interaction. It will run over two years and involves £10 million, secured by the DfES SEN Division, from the Treasury Capital Modernisation Fund. It is for school age pupils in England and is intended to augment LEA and school funding by providing additional equipment and technology for pupils who have significant communication difficulties. It does not, however, relieve LEAs and schools of their respective obligations in terms of identifying and meeting individual needs.
Where an application is successful, funding may be provided to cover the following:
Equipment provided under the project is for long-term use by the pupil both at home and at school. Where a pupil changes schools, the equipment can go with him or her. Similarly, if the pupil moves on to higher or further education or employment, the equipment may remain with them until alternative provision is made.
There are six regional co-ordinating centres, supported by funds from the project. These are the two ACE Centres in Oldham and Oxford and a partnership of CENMAC and The Wolfson Centre in Great Ormond Street Hospital. Across the whole of England these focus on pupils with physical disabilities; Abilitynet, a national organisation which specialises in the provision of written communication aids; SCOPE a national charity which maintains schools and units for pupils with severe and profound and multiple learning difficulties. A partnership of The British Association of the Deaf (BATOD) and Deafchild UK who work across England supporting pupils who are hard of hearing or deaf.
The project has equipped these Centres with an extensive range of communication aids to use in assessment of pupils’ needs and as loan libraries for students to try for extended periods. The cost of these aids range from £50 to £6000.
The Centres are currently building up a range of contacts in LEAs with whom they will work. They will manage teams of people undertaking assessments of pupils’ needs and supporting their “CAP Contacts” professional development so that they become increasingly skilled in assessing the ICT needs of pupils.
Since April referrals for support from the project have been arriving at Becta. To date We have received over 300 (see appendix 1) referrals and already supplied in excess of £70,000 worth of equipment to individuals. The time taken from referral, through individual assessment, recommendation, ordering and delivery of aids compared to working through LEAs is currently very promising although this is likely to become slower as the number of referrals grow. (see appendix 2 : a case study of one child’s provision).
Referral, assessment, ordering and delivery process
Figure 1 shows a graphical representation of the CAP referral process demonstrating how pupil referrals and assessments are processedThe project also required a full OJEC procurement exercise to engage with the suppliers who work in this field. This was carried out between September and December 2001. We now have 49 recognised suppliers who supply over 2000 items. This is the largest internationally available site which focuses on communication aids. Uniquely, It provides practitioners with a catalogue of hardware and software usable in this field and brought together in one place. Figure 2 below shows the design of the site.
Through this site, the six centres, can directly identify and recommend equipment which is then agreed and ordered by Becta. The site will also host all the other data relating to the project which naturally is protected by varying degrees of security. For example there is an open area showcasing equipment, a password protected area for suppliers to edit information about their equipment and a highly secure area, only open to CAP staff, containing personal details of those referred.
Currently our target for processing provision of assessments and equipment to pupils is 50 per month and since April this has been slightly exceeded. We intend appraising this target in September 2002 and, if necessary, adjusting our systems as appropriate for the remaining period of the project.
The DfES are funding an independent evaluation of the project including its impact of aids on teaching, learning and socialisation of pupils.
Although the main purpose of the project is supply children with lifeline equipment and to give them a voice, nevertheless there are a number of value added elements to the project which could potentially have a much more long lasting impact on the system as a whole. For example we would expect the project to:
The work will impact on, and inform the Government’s broader inclusion agenda.