Technology and SEND education

Written by: Terry Waller | Published:
Image: iStock

For SEND pupils, the effective use of technology has the power to make education more inclusive. Terry Waller offers his thoughts on how technology can best be used in this regard

As educators, we are always searching for ways to develop our teaching provisions and improve learner outcomes. There is a universal belief that technology has an important role to play in the education of children and young people, with more and more schools choosing to use iPads and tablets in the classroom.

However, the importance of ICT resources for learners with SEND is not sufficiently discussed, despite their ability to raise standards of teaching and learning.

According to the Department for Education’s (DfE) statistics, it is estimated that 2.8 per cent of pupils in England have been identified as having SEND, with a further 17 per cent said to have unidentified learning impairments.
ICT has a pivotal role to play in meeting the needs of pupils with SEND, as it provides a richer learning environment that engages and enthuses.

Most academic literature relating to the benefits of using computers to boost learning for pupils with SEND agrees that technology is a powerful resource in supporting positive educational outcomes. That said, more research needs to be done. At present, despite the vital role that ICT plays in helping children with SEND to communicate and be involved in learning, there is relatively little research on the specific benefits.

Andreas Schleicher from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) agrees that technology needs to be a more prolific part of SEND education. He said: “Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge.

“School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning to provide educators with learning environments that provide children with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world.”

ICT in SEND education

ICT can be used in many ways to help all learners make progress. As a powerful tool, not only for independent learning, but also for communication and collaboration, it can empower pupils by helping to build confidence and self-esteem.

Even when used for reinforcing basic concepts, through overlearning, drill and practice or revision, the non-judgemental and neutral aspects of technology are invaluable for those who are challenged by learning.

Books such as Brilliant Ideas for Using ICT in the Inclusive Classroom by Sal McKeown and Angela McGlashon, demonstrate these features very clearly, and remind us of the huge range of technologies available that can be used to make a difference.

Technology can also be used to provide representations of information in a form that is meaningful and accessible to learners– for example, images or symbols rather than text; video rather a diagram; animation rather than a demo.

It can also motivate pupils by providing feedback and structured learning that supports the student in incremental steps, non-judgementally, and repeatedly when necessary.

ICT enthuses and engages pupils when learning, as it is exciting and hands-on. For example, learners can create electronic music as a group, follow an online learning course, create a game or steer a robot through a maze by applying programming skills. Pupils that enjoy their education will better engage with their learning and have more positive learning outcomes as a result.

Apps, online symbol-supported writing systems, robots, and social media can be used creatively to break-down barriers to communication for young people with SEND. Learner-led activities using tablets, which I’ve seen in many special schools, mean that pupils with the most complex needs can demonstrate independence and make their learning transparent.

Having an education that, as part of the curriculum, uses technology provides learners with perhaps the only chance of participating in society and realising their full potential, as it develops skills for life.

An inclusive tech classroom

The benefits of using ICT, such as web-based tablets, in the classroom are infinite. It provides immediate feedback, offers a multi-sensory and individualised response, enables learners and teachers to set up personal and customised learning paths and monitor progress, and it provides increased opportunities for inclusive learning, participation and collaboration.

However, it will take time to develop effective practice using ICT equipment and software, and schools will face some challenges to begin with. Some of these relate to the introduction of any new technology into a school – the initial investment, training, support and development of those involved (teachers, learning support staff, technicians), administration and security.

Good design, layout and management is at the heart of an inclusive classroom. Many years ago I visited an inclusive science classroom in a school in Belfast. It had many of the features you would expect to see in a school designed with the needs of pupils with SEN in mind.

The classroom had adjustable height work benches and adapted science equipment; visualisers to magnify mini-beasts; well-labelled wall displays and instructions in a large font; information was made more accessible through strategically placed devices that would read out key information when pressed. The pupils and teachers alike benefited from using ICT and technology in the classroom.

Where a whole-school approach is being considered for the use of a particular technology, such as mobile devices, or assistive technology for use on all devices across a school, a managed pilot is often the best and most affordable approach. In all cases, being clear about what you want to address and how the technology will be used to achieve this is key.

Sharing ideas and best practice

ICT use crosses the boundaries of formal and informal learning, home and work, and because of this, there are several safeguarding considerations. How do we keep our pupils safe while they are online? How to we ensure pupils are using technology to learn? How do we monitor online activity?

Ensuring that young people are safe online is now integrated into safeguarding, with new tools such as the STAR SEN Toolkit from Childnet being developed to support vulnerable learners at all times.

Success is often only possible where initial training is provided, followed by support and on-going CPD to ensure the devices or software is used well.

Colleagues in the local authority, SENCOs in others schools, online reviews, Twitter, email forums, and teachmeets are all invaluable sources of peer advice, and give teachers and schools the opportunity to discuss and share ideas.

SENCOs and teachers use the graduated approach of “assess, plan, do, review” on a daily basis, but when it comes to technology and inclusion, this needs to be supported through a clear vision and strategy to ensure that everyone benefits from it.

Embedding ICT use for all into policies and practice, providing access to up-to-date advice and training for teachers and SENCOs, and opportunities for sharing and collaboration to develop new pedagogies must be at the forefront of these strategies.

Education technology is growing and expanding in quantum leaps, so it is important for schools to implement resources that cater to their pupils’ needs. Using ICT in the classroom increases learners’ motivation and personalises the learning journey, giving young people with SEND the chance to reach their full potential and develop the skills and experience needed for life after education.

  • Terry Waller is technology development officer at special needs association Nasen.


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