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All posts by Sal

About Sal

Sally McKeown is a trainer and journalist, offering informed comment on all matters concerning educational technology and special needs, including dyslexia.

Shake up in post-16 options opens doors for school leavers

Schools like to hang on to their pupils until they are 18. This has been a bugbear for FE colleges for many years as they feel they do not get a fair hearing. Schools claim a closer personal relationship with their students, better pastoral support and argue that they have a good reputation when it comes to getting university places.

Things have changed dramatically in the last year or so. Just this week, Sheffield Hallam announced it is suspending its degree in English Literature; last week it was announced that there will be fewer places for medical students this year. Maybe it is time to reconsider. Why would young people struggle to get one of a decreasing number of uni places and rack up enormous debts when there are other options?

On 20 June 2022, the government issued its consultation on revised statutory guidance on access to schools for education and training providers. It will enforce a legal requirement, ‘making sure that all secondary schools open their doors to other education and training providers.’

Baker Dearing Education Trust chief executive, Simon Connell, points out that with the introduction of T Levels young people want to know more about the technical options on offer from UTCs, colleges, and training providers, in concert with employers. He believes that ‘the department ought to come down hard on schools who try to cheat pupils and providers by using pre-recorded videos or simply distributing literature on technical options.’

UTCs offer a totally different education as Christopher Simpson found out.

Christopher Simpson

He is now an IT Systems Administrator with Z-Tech Control, a company that provides specialist electrical, control and instrumentation support to the UK’s water, power and rail industries. They funded him to do a degree level apprenticeship in Digital Technologies.

‘I would not have got this apprenticeship if I hadn’t gone to Greater Peterborough UTC,’ he said. ‘At my school the only path was university. I found this difficult as I could never truly picture myself there. The way they taught at the UTC really helped ground what we were learning in reality. This feeling was reinforced by the near constant involvement by sponsors so we knew we were learning something that was useful, rather than an abstract concept that would never see the light of day. GPUTC gave me a chance to see and connect with employers and find what I wanted to do.’

Read more bout the consultation here. The closing date for responses is 25 July 2022.

The Times Education Commission Report finds the British education system is ‘failing on every measure’

‘Creativity is not just about finger painting — it’s a way of thinking’

The solution to fix Britain’s failing education system the 96-page report recommends

  • A British Baccalaureate offering broader academic and vocational qualifications at 18,  with parity in funding per pupil in  both routes, and a slimmed-down  set of exams at 16 to bring out the  best in every child.
  • An “electives premium” for  all schools to be  spent on activities  including drama, music, dance and sport and a national citizen’s service experience  for every pupil, with volunteering and outdoor pursuits expeditions to ensure that the co-curricular activities enjoyed by the most advantaged become available to all. 
  • A new cadre of Career Academies  — elite technical and vocational sixth forms with close links  to industry  — mirroring  the academic sixth  forms that are being  established and a new focus on creativity and entrepreneurialism in education to unleash the economic potential of Britain. 
  • A significant boost to early years funding targeted at the most vulnerable and a unique pupil number from birth, to  level the playing field before children get  to school. A library in every primary school. 
  • An army of undergraduate tutors earning credit towards their degrees by helping pupils who fall behind to catch up.
  • A laptop or tablet for every child and a greater use of artificial intelligence in schools, colleges and universities to personalise learning, reduce teacher workload and prepare young people better for future employment. 
  • Wellbeing should be at the heart of education, with a counsellor in every  school and an annual wellbeing survey of pupils to encourage schools to actively build resilience rather than just support students once problems have arisen. 
  • Bring out the best in teaching by enhancing its status and appeal with better career development, revalidation every five years and a new category of  consultant teachers, promoted within the  classroom, as well  as a new teaching  apprenticeship. 
  • A reformed Ofsted that works collaboratively with schools to secure sustained improvement rather than operating through fear and a new  “school report card”  with a wider range  of metrics including  wellbeing, school culture, inclusion and attendance to unleash the potential of  schools. 
  • Better training for teachers to identify children with special educational needs, a greater focus on  inclusion and a duty  on schools to remain accountable for the pupils they exclude to  draw out the talent in  every child.
  • New university campuses in fifty higher education “cold spots”, including satellite wings in FE colleges, improved pay and conditions in the FE sector and a transferable credit system between universities and colleges to boost stalled British productivity.
  • A 15-year strategy for education, drawn up in consultation with business leaders, scientists, local mayors, civic leaders and cultural figures, putting education above short-term party politics and bringing out the best in our schools, colleges and universities.

The Times Education Commission Report. The full report can be read here:  https://bit.ly/3xfOoi5

#Covid19 – critical care symbols – when words are not enough

The Critical Care Communication Chart – A free symbol chart from Widgit Software

  • Developed with the Speech and Language Therapy Team at Weston General Hospital
  • Helps medical staff communicate with patients who are critically ill with coronavirus
  • Can be freely downloaded so that anyone, anywhere can access it
  • Print it off or use on a smart phone or tablet
  • Also available in 37 community languages

For further information contact Jane Batchelor jane@widgit.com 07977 190584

As good as a hug – one way to combat a poor night’s sleep

This is a time when neurodiversity and ASD have a higher profile in our society than ever before, but the jury is still out when it comes to many aspects of autism. For many years diagnosis was made based on the Triad of Impairments where individuals had obvious issues with imagination, social communication and social interaction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


(picture from https://www.weightedblanketguides.com/benefits-autism-adhd/)

These days we no longer accept that four times as many boys as girls have ASD and there is more emphasis on sensory processing disorders, obsessive behaviours and OCD.

One of my main interests in the field of special needs is what parents can do to make life at home a little bit easier. As parents of new babies quickly discover, a lack of sleep distorts every aspect of family life, so I was especially pleased to be contacted by Wendy Rhodes who is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the founder and editor of a magazine and blog called Weighted Blanket Guides which covers many different aspects of autism and ADHD with links to the latest research.

Weighted clothing and bedding work on the proprioceptive system and tactile sensory system. Put simply they make people feel more comfortable and secure when their senses are jangling and they are over-stimulated by the world around them. Apparently it is the same science as hugs!

Weighted bedding is not the same thing as piling a bed with all the blankets and quilts you can find. ‘A weighted blanket usually consists of several square pockets filled with weights such as poly pellets, glass beads or even rice,’ explained Wendy. ‘The squares are sewn together like a quilt. This quilting technique is what helps distribute the weight evenly over the body.’

Some experts are sceptical about the benefits of weighted bedding. For example, Professor Paul Gringras, a consultant sleep expert at Evelina London Children’s Hospital led a study of 73 children aged between five and 16 with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and poor sleep from 2010- 2013. He said: ‘These blankets can cost more than £100, so it’s important to know that they actually work. We have found no evidence that they make any difference to these children’s sleep compared with normal weight blankets.’

Weighted blankets help to regulate breathing and heart rates and can improve the production of serotonin. Some children may use them for just half an hour before bedtime, for long car journeys or when they are stressed while others will benefit from having them on the bed all night. Generally, a weighted blanket for a child should be approximately 10% of their body weight plus one or two pounds.

Parents who are in two minds about the benefits may have noticed that a night-time visit from a cat or dog can provide that extra weight and reassurance to an anxious child. The blankets offer many advantages: they are not only more hygienic but also, they don’t jump off in the middle of the night or decide to come and sit on your chest as you are trying to turn over.

Weighted bedding and clothing are available in the UK from https://www.specialneedstoys.com/uk/proprioception/deep-pressure

When Dan was a wise man, Kate was a silly sheep and Joe was in the chorus

It’s that time of year when primary teachers are casting roles in the nativity play. This morning I received research results from www.GingerComms.com. According to their poll of 2,000 British adults (conducted on behalf of Virgin Media to mark their Christmas stars competition) there are clear links between the role played by children in the school nativity and their future life chances.

Who knew that oxen end up as the highest earners with an average £43,000 a year, more than twice as much as those who played a lamb or sheep? Who would have thought that Angel Gabriels have around 1,297 followers on social media? Or that they read three and a half books a month, whereas your average donkey just manages one.

‘If your child is playing one of the three wise men this year, they will most likely end up working in construction and enjoy gaming …are most likely to be introverted, with 67 percent admitting they are shy.’

To be fair, Dan did have a holiday job for a plumbing and central heating company. I think the consensus would be ‘tried hard but lacked ability,’ and he is noted neither for his DIY skills, nor for his bashfulness

Kate should be ‘working in healthcare, enjoy yoga and likely to be introverted’. Wrong again. As Little Slow Coach she changed the narrative so that the nativity became a ‘coming of age’ story about a lost and lonely lamb, with Mary and Joseph relegated to the stalls. Mind you, she has been working for Shelter for the last few years.

According to the Virgin Media research, Joe could all too easily have been one of the 9 percent who said, ‘missing out had been so painful that they never acted again.’

In his nativity play, nearly all the roles went to girls. I seem to remember that even the shepherds metamorphosed into shepherdesses, complete with sheep crooks and frilly dresses. Mrs R was not a feminist; she just hated boys.

Joe didn’t seem to care much at the time and years later got a degree in Performing Arts from Bretton Hall and acquired clowning and trapeze skills at Greentop Circus in Sheffield.

So, it just goes to show, early childhood experiences have no impact whatsoever on your children’s future life.

No Show Bett?

Many assistive technology companies have already decided that the Bett Show is no longer on their radar but we are promised that Inclusion, Social Mobility and SEND will be one of six content themes for Bett 2020. So, is it worth a visit?

Jigsaw showing how the new elements of Bett fit together
new look Bett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Held at ExCeL London every January, Bett was one of the key events in the technology calendar but in recent years there has been little evidence of disability and assistive technology exhibitors. There used to be a Special Needs Village and a Fringe but these have long gone. Critics feel that technology that levels the playing field for those with physical disabilities or offers extra support for those with dyslexia or helps people with mental health issues secure and continue in a job has been so ‘integrated’ into the show that it is now invisible.

So is it worth attending Bett 2020? Ieva Stuikyte said: ‘In 2019 we had over 180 SEN specialists attending Bett so for SEND companies in attendance this can be an effective way of getting in front of key influencers and decision-makers.’

At present there are several ways for companies to benefit from Bett:

  • Companies that choose not to exhibit at Bett this year can set-up meetings with relevant attendees via Connect@Bett, a facilitated meeting tool that can provide a cost-effective way of networking
  • BESA members who are new to Bett, or haven’t participated in the past two years, can join the BESA Pavilion where they can exhibit in a plug-and-play pod and speak in the workshop area each day of the show
  • All BESA members can benefit from a 5% discount on any stand at the show
  • EdTech start-ups can join Bett Futures, a start-up zone with plug-and-play stand options as well as peer networking and support in the months leading up to Bett

Networking and finding customers

  • Five solution zones at Bett 2020 to help attendees connect with relevant suppliers
  • SEND will feature in each of these zones
  • A Leaders’ programme to help buyers and decision-makers ‘find the solutions, ideas and contacts they need’
  • Two new Professional Development theatres offering free CPD to educators at all levels
  • Bett is partnering with the Global EdTech Start-Up Awards in 2020 and all start-ups and Bett Exhibitors can attend the awards in the Arena on the Thursday evening at no cost.
  • This could be a good networking opportunity.

 

SPOILER ALERT: Nottingham parents have lost the will to live

8TH AUGUST – a day to be feared. It is the day when British parents reach breaking point, throw a hissy fit, and tell the world and their families that school holidays suck.

This information reached me courtesy of Drayton Manor Park (which is around 40 miles from Nottingham City Centre) who commissioned a survey of 2000 parents.

The results prove that hell is indeed other people. On average, we can only sustain wall to wall contact with our family for 17 days before we have had enough and long for the school holiday to be over.

That’s not too bad. It’s more than two weeks. If you have been upbeat and good humoured for the first third of the holidays, give yourself a pat on the back but be warned, dark moments lie ahead.

Over the six to eight week break, the average parent will have to deal with 13 sibling fights, six public tantrums, 15 early morning wakeups, two cancelled childcare emergencies and five long car journeys.

As of tomorrow – August 8th 2019, many parents will stop enjoying the company of their offspring and start longing for September to arrive:

• One in five parents believe that the summer holidays are the single most stressful time of year
• 28% will attempt to limit screen time
• 17 percent of parents will be shouted at by their kids when/ if they succeed
• The average parent will be driven to HIDE from their little ones in a locked bathroom or bedroom at least six times over the holidays, just to get some respite
• 88 percent of parents believe they take school holidays more seriously than their own parents did
• 36 percent of mum and dads today say they feel guilty if they don’t have an activity planned every day
• Working parents are so stressed that 15 percent of parents are considering quitting their job. The rest are probably looking for overtime opportunities
• 90% of parents surveyed said they wished employers were more sympathetic to the plight of working parents during the summer break

Apparently, Nottingham is where parents cave in first. They gave up on 4th August, while the hardy folk in Belfast will be smiling grimly until the 12th

What does despair look like? Researchers found that 16 percent of parents reported that getting out of the house every morning is a major achievement so the prediction is that in the next month there will be seven days when everyone stays in their pyjamas all day.

For the cheerful and adventurous among you there is Drayton Manor Park. The yare offering the chance to win £500 and FREE entry to the park: www.draytonmanor.co.uk/competitions.

A deadly disease in our schools you’ve probably never heard of

Today -July 4th – is National Mesothelioma Day and this year the charity Mesothelioma UK is drawing attention to the risk to children in primary schools.

Politicians and environmentalists are rightly concerned about the quality of air in our cities and the traffic pollution around schools where parents leave their engines idling while waiting to collect pupils at the end of the school day. But there is a menace that lurks behind the plaster, in the damaged roofs, rotten windows and broken ceiling tiles of primary schools built or repaired roughly between the years of 1940 to 1980.

Mesthelioma is a cancer caused by breathing in asbestos dust and while asbestos is banned in the UK, it is still to be found in many homes, schools and offices.

Last year the Department of Education asked all schools to report how much asbestos was in their buildings. Nearly a quarter (23%) of schools failed to respond by the February 2019 deadline. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Stephensons Solicitors LLP received replies from just 69% of the 152 local education authorities in England but the results give cause for concern:

• 5,196 maintained primary schools are likely to contain asbestos
• A further 3,791 schools could contain asbestos
• At least 319 teachers have died from mesothelioma since 1980
• 205 of these deaths have occurred since 2001 (source: National Education Union)
• Academies and free schools are not required to report to their local education authority on asbestos because they are outside their control
Kate Sweeney, partner in personal injury at Stephensons, pointed out that asbestos is found in many primary schools because the buildings are very old: ‘Parents and teachers have a right to know if asbestos is present and what measures are being taken to manage exposure.’

There is no safe level of asbestos and the effects will not show up for several decades so Stephensons and Mesothelioma UK are calling for all schools and local education authorities to publicly disclose if asbestos is on the premises and the measures being taken to manage it.

Liz Darlison, Head of Services at Mesothelioma UK, said: ‘Sadly, the UK has the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world.’
See the NEU fact file: https://www.teachers.org.uk/edufacts/asbestos

Use this summer to teach children a new – and useful – skill

We are just coming to that time of the year when schools are planning holiday activities and their after school clubs for the Autumn term.

Now of course you want activities that are a bit more exciting than school curriculum subjects. Some schools opt for trips out, unusual sports, learning an instrument or a gardening club and I have been intrigued by stories of children learning the Glockenspiel, engaging in cheerleading and joining a Conundrum Club.

Often schools look for clubs as an antidote to technology promoting outdoor pursuits and a break from screen time. All good arguments but there is still a place for learning touch typing.

In the UK we don’t teach it in schools as part of the curriculum and yet it is an important skill for life – as important as learning to cook. Often the pundits claim that
digital natives need no instruction on basic computer skills, including keyboarding but this is not true. These students are using more digital media to make notes, do their homework and even take standardised tests so it is vital that they learn to use it efficiently.

There are different ways to teach touch typing but schools often choose learning online where the most popular programs are:
Touch-type Read and Spell https://www.readandspell.com/ an online-access typing course – Winner of the Education Resources Award – 2017, with 24 levels, each with 31 modules
Kaz https://kaz-type.com/ – shortlisted for the Bett Special Needs Award 2019 – an Accelerated Learning course that teaches the A to Z keys in just 90 minutes – using a multisensory approach that engages both sides of the brain – has the added benefit of a qualification, a City and Guilds badge too
Englishtype https://www.englishtype.com/ uses vocabulary content from the national literacy strategy word lists and follows key stages 1-3 of the national curriculum

The Three Rs are not enough!

Here is Allen Tsui’s account of using KAZ type in different schools. You can read the full case study on the KAZ site

I first encountered KAZ-Type in 2014 when working at a highly rated Independent
Preparatory School based in central London. The Head Teacher asked me to manage the school’s subscription as part of its computing curriculum.

The children I was working with at the time were very enthused by it, especially being able to challenge each other with their typing speeds. Many were also partly motivated by the fact that I had set them a personal challenge to exceed my typing speed.

The school I currently work for – Willow Brook Primary School Academy in East London, is an amazing school, recognised by the Mayor of London as being one of the top performing schools in London in school year 2018/19

Beyond the school timetable, Willow Brook also offers a wide programme of after school clubs which are free to all families to take up. I was hosting or facilitating KAZ after school club held on Friday afternoons. This was so well attended and over-subscribed, we had to hold two groups.

Invisible barriers to inclusion

Today March 16th 2019 is Disabled Access Day.

Our government has promised to get one million disabled people into work over the next decade. This will certainly be a challenge as many disabled workers will not be able to get to work using transport. Recently, BBC journalist Alex Taylor described finding himself stuck on a train in his wheelchair and apparently Govia, parent company of Southern Rail Thameslink Railway recently is putting profits before people by telling staff not to help passengers who are disabled on and of trains if it is going to cause delays.

If these newly appointed workers are using a website or any form of technology they may find the systems inaccessible. Hilary Stephenson, managing director of digital user experience agency, Sigma, has found that many websites still have barriers to access which make it difficult – or even impossible – for people with disabilities to use.

Her company found that a third of council websites in the UK are not accessible for disabled people. From booking travel to accessing vital health services, poor digital design is leaving millions of vulnerable users confused, alienated and often severely isolated.

‘Living with an impairment, disability or health issue of any kind should never exclude people from accessing the same online and digital services as everyone else,’ she says. ‘It is scandalous that there are still so many companies not willing to invest the time and money into making their sites inclusive to all.’

Accessible Spaces – Exploring access to public, leisure and event spaces By Simon Wissink | 24/09/2018