Making it easier for students in Further Education to get funding

With the election just behind us, we can see quite clearly that post-16 is going to be back on the agenda. Whatever happens with Brexit, we are facing a skills shortage in the UK because uncertainty has encouraged some migrants to look elsewhere for job opportunities.

Who knows what will happen to Philip Hammond’s proposals for new T-level qualifications? Indeed, at the time of writing, who knows what will happen to Hammond himself?

Bob Harrison FE champion

Bob Harrison, chair of governors at Northern College and education adviser for Toshiba Information Systems Northern Europe, said, “The new Vocational pathways to Technical qualifications will provide enormous challenges for all those involved in 14-18 education, not just for schools but also for the awarding organisations.”

Whatever happens longer term, there is likely to be an impetus to get more students to train for apprenticeships, for jobs and for university courses.

At present FE is a minefield, especially when it comes to getting funding. It can be a traumatic experience for those who are most reliant on funding, that vulnerable group of students who are already at a high risk of withdrawing from college.

At most colleges in the UK the task of applying for financial support is a complex, paper-based process. Often FE students come from non-traditional backgrounds and may be deterred by complex forms. Some will lack family support, many do not have the financial literacy skills needed to make decisions about whether they can afford to come off benefits or give up a job, while others worry about the impact on their dependants.

New software could simplify the process. CAMS software, developed by Scottish firm Inisoft, is now available to further education providers in England and Scotland.

CAMS helps FE providers to streamline their funding application and approval processes. Colleges have experienced significant cuts to their administration budgets and this is likely to get tougher as access to the European Social Fund, worth millions to UK colleges, will end when the UK leaves the EU.

The software will rationalise and manage the entire student funding application, saving time and resources for both students and college staff.

Oonagh McBride, Head of Inisoft
Oonagh McBride, Head of Inisoft

Oonagh McBride, Head of Inisoft, said: “Further Education colleges often find that they are overwhelmed by the volume of enquiries from potential students and hampered by incomplete information or applications that are likely to fail based on a mismatch between criteria and grades. This takes time for administrators and makes life very difficult for students. By streamlining the process, we can introduce certainty and a rapid conclusion to application processes, giving potential students clarity and enabling administrators to respond more promptly to applications.”

CAMS software is already being used by 80% of regional Scottish colleges, delivering real costs and efficiency saving while improving the student experience.

For further information: http://inisoft.co.uk/

Snap election affects mental health petition

The announcement that we are to have a general election on 8 June has thrown many campaigns into disarray.

The petition Make mental health education compulsory in primary and secondary schools needs 100,000 signatures to ensure it can be considered for debate in Parliament. So far over 75,000 people have signed it.

Originally the organisers had until 6 July to meet the target but the snap General Election means they now only have until next Wednesday 3rd May.

The mental health charity The Shaw Mind Foundation (SMF) and HealthUnlocked, a social network for health, have joined forces to promote HeaducationUK

This sets out to:

• Help prevent the development of mental ill health in children and teenagers
• Decrease the vast numbers of children and young people suffering from mental illness
• Rid our society of the ‘sticking plaster’ approach that the UK government have long adopted when trying to deal with mental illness in children and young people
• Educate our children and future generations for a happier and healthier adulthood
• Take a huge physical and financial strain off the NHS, CAMHS, social services and teachers
• Create huge advantages for the UK economy and industry for decades to come
• Normalise mental health issues as an accepted human condition so that children will feel confident enough to open up to each other and those who care for them Enable a more proactive society in addressing mental health issues, giving children the ability and confidence to speak out during their childhood and indeed into adulthood, as they go into the workplace and have their own families

Click here to sign https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/176555

COMING SOON :The Ed Show at the NEC

The Education Show is a firm favourite with many teachers in the midlands and north of England and, sitting alongside Birmingham airport, it attracts staff from Ireland and Europe as well. It offers schools everything from pencils and stickers to high cost technology and is increasingly popular as a source of professional development. Those responsible for special needs will appreciate having time to catch up with the latest products and enjoy some first-rate free training in the Early Years and SEN Theatre.

On the first day of the show, Alison Woolf from Wrexham Glyndwr University, will be talking about Supporting Mental Health in Schools: Counselling Skills and Therapeutic Play Skills Training. (Thursday 16 March, at 3.10pm). It is not only children who struggle; Robert Whitelock, teacher of mathematics at Garforth Academy, claims that 1 in 4 school staff are likely to suffer from mental health issues. With increasing numbers of staff absent through stress it would be a good idea for senior leaders to attend Managing Mental Health – A Resilience Toolkit, at 10.40am Saturday 18th March.

The last 18 months have seen the biggest migration of people across borders in living memory and UK schools are struggling to cope with recent arrivals. On Thursday 16 March at 3.50pm Alison Prowle and Janet Harvey from the University of Worcester will be sharing good practice in their session: Including Refugee Children in Your Setting.

I have just visited Columbia Grange in Sunderland, a special school with an outreach team that also supports 1200 children with autism in local mainstream schools. The number of children with a diagnosis rises year on year. There are two good relevant sessions at the Ed Show: At 15:50 on Friday 17 March, Simon Birch, Deputy Head at Pictor Academy, will be discussing challenging behaviour in a school environment and proving examples of practical strategies while Joy Beaney and Kay Al Ghani, consultants for the Autism Train, will be presenting Creating Autism Champions through developing Peer Awareness at 11.20pm on Saturday 18 March.

The Education Show not only offers seminars but also gives visitors a chance to see the latest resources, ask the suppliers questions, compare the relevant products and even negotiate the best price!

My top five picks are:
1. SSS Learning showcasing their CPD-accredited e-learning courses on stand H81. These cover a broad spectrum of issues, from child protection and child sexual exploitation (CSE), to forced marriage and honour based violence, prevent duty (radicalisation and extremism) and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
2. Dekko Comics stand N95 who used crowd funding to get their comics off the ground. They work alongside Dyslexia Action and Dyslexia Scotland to create comics that help children with dyslexia engage with their education
3. First News, the only UK newspaper written especially for 7-14 year olds, with more than 2.2 million weekly readers on stand N87
4. PIVATS from the Lancashire Assessment Team can help teachers measure very small steps of progress. Talk to them about their latest products on stand GG88
5. Talking Products Limited on stand M10. They provide Talking Tins and talking Photo Albums to encourage young children to talk and express themselves in sentences. They are also ideal for older pupils who need to develop their speaking and listening skills.

The Education Show runs from 16-18 March at the NEC in Birmingham. Visit www.education-show.com to reserve pre-book your entry admission to the show and a seat at any number of CPD sessions, all of which are free of charge

Yoga therapy for children with disabilities provides an oasis of calm

Set in the heart of Islington, just a five minute walk from Highbury and Islington station, the MahaDevi Yoga Centre is a unique place of tranquillity and peace.

The centre opened its doors just over a year ago offering yoga therapy to children with special needs from 6 week old babies to teenagers in wheelchairs.

It is a specialist centre for the Sonia Sumar Method. Forty five years ago, senior yoga teacher Sonia Sumar had a daughter with Down’s Syndrome. At that time in rural Brazil, there were not many interventions for children with special needs so Sonia used her skills and knowledge of yoga to help Roberta. Soon she could see the benefits as Roberta grew strong, well balanced and developed new skills.

After her daughter’s death, Sonia Sumar decided to develop her approach and share it with other parents who faced similar challenges. Now she works with children who have cerebral palsy, autism, attention deficit disorder and ADHD as well as children like Roberta with Down’s Syndrome.

The MahaDevi Centre offers 100 therapy sessions per week in the centre as well as treatment in schools, day centres, nurseries, hospitals and children hospices across London.

There are also regular Hatha Yoga classes every day and monthly workshops and 25% of each payment goes directly to the MahaDevi Fund. This subsidises the yoga therapy sessions for children with special needs whose families cannot afford the fees.
This little community is making a difference. “My son Derek is 8 and has Cerebral Palsy. When he started yoga therapy his muscles were so tight and he was unable to sit unsupported, with very weak core strength and generally floppy posture. The main change is his increased ability to hold himself up in a sitting position more independently. He has a lot more core stability and head and neck control.”
For more information or to make a donation, please visit http://mahadevicentre.com/

Impact of dyspraxia on children’s moods

Imagine your school aged child struggled to climb stairs, brush their teeth or use cutlery. Wouldn’t you want schools to be aware of their problems and make allowances or, even better, find solutions so they were not singled out in the classroom?

‘Dyspraxia has a significant impact on all aspects of daily life from the moment a child wakes up,’ explains researcher Professor Elisabeth Hill from Goldsmiths, University of London.

dp-bkWhen I wrote the book How to Help Your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child I interviewed parents and children and came to realise that dyspraxia could have an impact on the whole family. Matt was described by his mum as ‘an unhappy little boy. He did not make eye contact and his language problems got in the way of making friends. He was also chronically inflexible and had he most explosive tantrums if things didn’t work out as expected. This can be very humiliating when it happens in public.’

Dyspraxia also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD) affects 5–6 per cent of children in the UK. In addition to motor skill problems, latest research shows that young children aged 7-10 with dyspraxia have poorer social skills than their peers, and 60 per cent of children find it hard to make friends and are less willing to play with their classmates.

‘Coordination and movement is absolutely fundamental to a child’s early development,’ Professor Hill explains. ‘We found that children that stood and walked independently sooner were rated as having better communication and daily living skills at ages 7-10. In fact, as soon as a child can raise their head independently and look around, or stand and attract adult attention, then they have far more opportunities to interact with the world and gain social skills. Children with DCD are generally slower to achieve these important early motor milestones or miss them completely – indeed 23 per cent of our sample never crawled at all. This delay may underpin many of their later social difficulties.’

Initial findings from a survey completed by primary school teachers across England also demonstrate that two-thirds of children with dyspraxia are more anxious, tearful, downhearted, nervous of new situations and less confident than their classmates but researchers believe that some teachers are not aware that poor motor skills may go hand in hand with poor social skills.

Teachers need to be vigilant especially in early years’ settings because the sooner the child receives help from an occupational therapist the sooner they can develop functional, transferable skills which will improve their self-esteem and help with their social interactions.

Professor Hill believes parents need to help children set targets: ‘Parental support could be targeted at identifying what is important to the child to achieve, breaking down the task into manageable chunks, and supporting skill development through short but regular practice sessions.’

Refs
The role of motor abilities in the development of typical and atypical social behaviour: a focus on children with developmental coordination disorder (DCD) and children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Research funded by The Leverhulme Trust. Principal Investigator: Prof Elisabeth Hill, Postdoc: Dr Emma Sumner.

What could be more important than saving lives?

I have agreed to give money to St John Ambulance once a year. It is a respected charity with a high public profile at sporting events, festivals and big community gatherings. But that is not why I have signed up.

They have a new campaign to help children in primary schools become life savers.

first-aid-for-children2St John Ambulance believes that every young person should have the chance to learn vital lifesaving skills. Their research shows that seven out of 10 pupils wouldn’t know what to do if someone they knew was hurt. Children want to learn these new skills and parents are keen too. In fact, 95% of parents agree that these skills should be taught to secondary school pupils.

teresa pearceTeresa Pearce, Labour Party MP for Erith and Thamesmead, proposed an Emergency First Aid Education Bill so that first aid, including CPR, would be taught in every state-funded secondary school.

Over 14,000 people joined the campaign by writing to their local MP and 40 MPs turned up to support the Bill but the Government opposed making it mandatory for every pupil.

However, St John Ambulance has devised training for both primary and secondary schools. There is a set course https://www.sja.org.uk/sja/pdf/St_John_Ambulance_Student_First_Aid_Primary_courses.pdfthat covers choking, bleeding and CPR but schools can set their own with help from trainers.
• The courses meet National Curriculum requirements for Science, PSHE/Citizenship and PE.
• Trainers have first aid knowledge,
• Experience working with young people
• A valid DBS check
• £4 can give a child a 60-minute first aid lesson in school

The Big First Aid Lesson Live shown in June has been an inspiration to many schools. Now you can watch it on demand at: http://www.sja.org.uk/sja/schools/big-first-aid-lesson.aspx

Brain training boosts brain power

Cognition does not sound very exciting but in fact it is the bedrock of learning. Cognition is the ability to plan and organise, problem solve, remember things, and focus, it has an impact on all aspect of peoples’ lives including their ability to learn, cope with everyday situations and their mental wellbeing.

mycogIt is one of those things that is noticeable by its absence for example Gena who turns up with all the wrong things in her school bag. We all do this from time to time but not every day!

I have written several articles about memory. This is another aspect of cognition and changes to exams by the government have put a premium on recall skills, project work and continuous assessment have been phased out in favour of end course externally marked exams. Literacy has become synonymous with spelling and for those pupils brought up on phonic it has proved to be a severe test of an 11 year olds’ memory.

With all these changes and challenges Peterborough City Council are to be commended for turning the tables and putting in the base skills instead of bemoaning results at the end of a key stage.

MyCognition, a leading cognitive assessment and training company, is working in partnership with Peterborough City Council to deliver personalised brain training to thousands of the city’s students and pupils in primary and secondary schools and City College Peterborough.

The three-year partnership, the first of its kind in the UK, will give students and young people in up to 70 of Peterborough’s primary, secondary, further education and special schools access to MyCognition’s online portal.

MyCognition’s science-based programmes work by assessing an individual’s cognitive function and personalising the online training games to focus on and help to improve areas of greatest cognitive need.

Areas covered include:
• Concentration (Attention) – Selectively focussing the mind on one task at a time, blocking distractions
• Speed & Accuracy (Processing Speed) – Ability to perform sequences of tasks with smoothness, accuracy and coordination.
• Calculation & Problem Solving (Working Memory) – Finding solutions to complex problems. Short term storage and the use of information
• Memory (Episodic Memory) – Recall of times, places, and contextual knowledge.
• Planning & Strategy (Executive Function) – Managing all cognitive abilities to plan for the future.

School pupils whose cognitive function scores are low, including many with special educational needs, will be given access to Unique, a personalised programme for children aged 8-18 years with learning and behavioural difficulties to boost their performance in the classroom. The 12 week programme can be used at school and at home and it is hoped that parents will get on board and encourage children to persevere.

As well as working with Peterborough Learning Partnership, MyCognition is currently developing programmes for Claydon High School in Ipswich, Royal Free Hospital Children’s School in London and Notre Dame Primary School in Greenwich.

Iain Simper, CEO, Peterborough Learning Partnership said: ‘As educationalists we need to look beyond subject specific difficulties and address underlying causes which could be associated with poor cognition. We believe that by improving the cognitive function of our students, we are also improving their life chances.’

For more information, please visit http://www.mycognition.comhttp://www.mycognition.com//

Tourist in Thailand

Last November I won the CIPR Award for Outstanding Business Education Journalism 2015 for a series of articles about Apps for Good, a scheme that gets primary and secondary pupils to create an app, plan their pitch and show how they would bring it to market. I already had a trip to Hong Kong and Australia in my sights and decided to use the prize money to visit Thailand on the way home.

I soon learned that April is not the best month to visit Bangkok. With temperatures of 38 degrees and high humidity, I spent my time scurrying between the tourist attractions and anywhere with even a hint of air con.

thailand4I found that £500 goes a long way in Bangkok as my prize paid for four nights in a hotel, a half day guided tour of the city, canals and temples plus a full day visit to the River Kwai at Kanchanaburi to see the famous Bridge over the River Kwai, the Allied War Cemetery and Museum and a trip on Death Railway followed by an elephant ride.

Along the way I talked to locals and discovered a little about life behind the tourist sites. Thailand means Land of the Free and celebrates the fact that this country is the only one in south east Asia which has never been colonised by a foreign power.

Some of the anxieties expressed by Thai people are very similar to concerns in the UK right now. They respect their King – now the longest-reigning living monarch in the world- but are not so sure about his heir, so much so that there is talk of changing the law to allow his sister to take the throne.

Immigration is a key concern. Many complain that the Chinese have bought up property as an investment and as prices have risen, young people cannot get on the housing ladder. The average age for marriage is now over 30.

They also worry that legislative changes to the rules on migration for countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will allow free passage of other nationals into Thailand, especially from the Philippines. ‘Filipinos speak better English than Thais,’ explained my guide Michael, ‘and they are also noted for their good voices so they are likely to corner the market in professional singing jobs.’

The minimum wage in Thailand is just £5 per day but the top jobs which many young people aspire to are as plastic surgeons and cosmetic dentists. This is a country where looks count. The most popular anti-ageing cream is Snail White. Yes, it really is made from snail slime and is also reputed to be very good for acne, rashes and reducing the appearance of scar tissue. I didn’t buy a pot. Some things just don’t travel well.

Feeling Fearless in Deutschland

Holidays for disabled people have had an unfortunate image in the past. They have been good value but definitely short in the glamour stakes.

In the UK there has been an emphasis on seaside holidays, perhaps with an underlying belief that blustery winds, strong doses of ozone and temperatures below the seasonal average are somehow good for those who are not very mobile. Many of the popular resorts do not boast a convenient rail connection and are not handy for motorways so a slow journey along A roads has also been part of the fun.

They seem to do things differently in Germany as I found out when I went to the German National Tourist Office stand at Naidex. They were showcasing Feeling Fearless the latest addition to the GbikeNTO’s website www.germany.travel/barrierfree .

I met representatives from Germany’s biggest barrier-free hotel, Haus Rheinsberg, https://www.hausrheinsberg.de/eng/hotel/ a superior 4 star hotel located in the beautiful surroundings of the Brandenburg Lake District. Yes the rooms and communal areas are designed for wheelchair users but they also factor in fun: ‘The restaurant provides high quality regional cuisine and meets special dietary and nutritional needs. The hotel bar offers a counter that has the perfect height for wheelchair guests, and our dance floor offers plenty of space for wheelchair dancing.’ Now that sounds like a holiday.

Go boating www.accessible-brandenburg.com offers ‘Barrier-free Aquatic Adventures’ including canoeing, boat trips and chartering house boats. For those who prefer dry land there are bike trips in Potsdam or you can just enjoy the culture, scenery and food in Lower Saxony and Thuringia.

Fiona-Jarvis-Founder-Blue-Badge-StyleI met Fiona Jarvis, founder of Blue Badge Style. She runs a website which rates places based on style, accessibility and disabled facilities. She was enthusiastic about Feeling Fearless and is thinking of having a go at skiing for the first time.

She is just the sort of tourist that Klaus Lohmann, director of the German National Tourist Office for the UK and Ireland. He said: ‘Our new webpage is designed to open up ideas for what you can do- not what your can’t- whether it’s cycling, tacking a climbing rope course in a forest or skiing. We are trying to make holidays in Germany as free from obstructions and as enjoyable as possible.’

They are definitely doing something right, because Germany has just recorded it sixth, record breaking increase in tourism in a row. So maybe give Skeggy and Weston Super Mare a miss this summer and give Germany a go.

Thank you, Ma’am!

HelpKidzLearn from Inclusive Technology is an award winning collection of software for people with the most severe disabilities. Not only is it a vital resource for learners in the UK, but also it is proving to be a firm favourite in the United States and 148 other countries. Now its success has been crowned by the Queen. To mark her 90th birthday she has given Inclusive Technology the most prestigious International Trade award in the UK – the Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2016.

Martin Littler, Chairman and CEO of Inclusive Technology, has been a pioneer in the field of technology for children and adults with severe learning disabilities (SLD), profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) or those without speech who need alternative or augmentative communication (AAC) who perhaps can only make a single voluntary movement or sound.

hklLast month the HelpKidzLearn development team received the 2016 Education Resource Award for Special Educational Needs including ICT for their work on harnessing Eye Gaze  technology to meet the needs of learners with complex needs. Eye-gaze technology is the closest equivalent we have to thought-operated hardware so far, and is already surprisingly affordable. Inclusive Technology’s myGaze costs just £875 and is having an impact not just on children but on adults as well.

Just looking around a computer screen moves the mouse pointer and gazing at an area performs a click with no physical effort needed. Support workers can now use eye gaze to identify where the user is looking when different images, prompts or questions are asked, giving an insight into what users can see, what they are interested in looking at and some indication of their understanding skills.

Sean Carroll, IT/Assistive Technology Consultant at Sensation Communication and Technology Solutions, describes its impact: ‘James has sat in his chair since he was 19 with very little to occupy himself with, and even when at school I don’t think his independent access skills were attended to very much at all.’ Now with an Eye Gaze tracker James is able to access some online games and his parents are delighted to discover evidence of new skills.’

Yesterday Martin was on TV with his colleague Sandra Thistlethwaite who is a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, and Dan Woodman, deputy head teacher at Richard Cloudsley School in London. They were talking to the presenter of London Live about the impact of the technology on children’s lives. ms and xx

‘Children need to play, have fun and communicate,’ said Martin, ‘but this technology also lets children who are non-verbal use on-screen symbols and words to build language, create messages and take part in conversations with families and friends. The award is a huge pat on the back for our team of developers, teachers and therapists.’

Martin and his managing director Sukhjit Gill will collect the award at a Buckingham Palace reception on July 14, 2016.