Category Archives: training


Consign volunteers to the scrap heap

I hate that phrase ‘volunteer opportunities.’ Of course it is fine to be a volunteer if you want to – many of us have a passion for a cause and are willing to give up our time, run marathons, bake cakes to raise money for a charity. But we do get a touch narky when the charity phones us up and starts pressing us to make a regular commitment aka a direct debit, especially when we know the cold caller is being paid good money to pile on the guilt.

It is loathsome that so many commercial companies are now routinely using volunteers to do essential work. This boosts their profits and takes a job away from someone else. In fact it is what we used to call exploitation. We also have a modern day Slavery Bill. I am just waiting for the moment when some company – possibly a pound shop or a highly profitable supermarket- says that a person who has no choice other than to work for their company for no wages is not a ‘slave’ but a ‘volunteer’ who gives of their time freely.

This week I watched Mary’s Silver Service on Channel 4 where that shameless self-publicist and entertaining red head launched a pop-up employment agency for out of work pensioners. I love the idea of helping people find jobs and it is such an antidote to the age of volunteering we are now in.

Charity Hft offers paid work to adults with learning disabilities
Ethical car cleaning offers opportunities for adults with learning disabilities

So I was delighted to receive a press release from a charity I have worked with in the past telling me about their latest employment venture.

Future Clean is a social franchise purchased by Hft which specialises in helping adults with learning disabilities. They have opened a car cleaning service in Gloucester giving people with learning disabilities the chance to learn new skills in paid employment. New employees typically stay with Future Clean for about a year, building the skills and confidence to move onto further employment, creating spaces for new learners.

If it is possible to develop businesses which employ people beyond retirement age and those with physical disabilities and learning difficulties AND TO PAY THEM, there is no excuse for those companies that exploit people into working for no money with the excuse that it makes them more employable.

Being ‘work ready’ does not mean surrendering your basic employment rights.

Will cheap be cheerful for those who need communication aids?

The impact of iPads and Androids on the world of AAC was the big theme for the Communication Matters annual conference at the University of Leeds last week.

Communication aids which can play back pre-recorded speech or generate synthetic speech have revolutionised the lives of many of the 300,000 children and adults in the UK who will need Augmentative and Alternative Communication at some point in their lives.

ipad aacMany people who need AAC have severe and permanent physical disabilities from birth as a result of conditions such as cerebral palsy. Others have degenerative conditions which leave them unable to speak.

It is a disgrace that in a wealthy country such as Great Britain children and adults are being left without the power of speech simply to save money.

One solution is to find cheaper alternatives to the specialist aids. In recent times, companies have started to develop apps which will work with iPhones, iPads, Androids and other tablet devices.

Good news you might think.  The trouble is that the users need support, training for themselves and their carers, robust devices which will bounce off pavements and ongoing research and development to make the next generation of communication aids the best that they can be. Buying a tablet online and downloading an app does not even begin to address these problems.

Catherine Harris, Chair of Communication Matters, summed up the dilemma saying: “It is an exciting time for the sector. Developments in adapting technology have increased the range of options for people and the growth of access methods, such as eye gaze, provide people with alternative ways to use their equipment. However, these developments need underpinning by comprehensive assessment, funding of equipment and longer term support services if they are going to be really effective.’

My dyslexia book is proving popular

I have just received this lovely comment from handwriting expert Amanda McLeod, “Just to let you know it’s on my table and quite a few parents have looked through and then gone out to buy it. They like its practical nature.”

The book in question is How to Help Your Child with Dyslexia and Dyspraxia which is available from Crimson Publishing and has a foreword by Tom Pellereau who won The Apprentice last year.

Handwriting expert Amanda McLeodThe McLeod Centre for Learning is in Pimlico (London SW1). It is a centre for children who are under-achieving in English and Maths. Children attend mornings and are taught by specialist dyslexia teachers in small groups, or on an individual basis. Children attend up to four days per week and usually stay for two to three terms. They go back to their main schools for the afternoons.

Mr Gove doesn’t visit the same schools as me

I listened with mounting disbelief last week at BETT as Michael Gove, Secretary Of State for Education, revealed his total ignorance of what happens in schools today. Watch the whole of his speech here

Michael Gove
Michael Gove

He said, “The fundamental model of school education is still a teacher talking to a group of pupils. It has barely changed over the centuries, even since Plato established the earliest “akademia” in a shady olive grove in ancient Athens.
A Victorian schoolteacher could enter a 21st century classroom and feel completely at home. Whiteboards may have eliminated chalk dust, chairs may have migrated from rows to groups, but a teacher still stands in front of the class, talking, testing and questioning.”

Maybe that’s what they do at Eton. I don’t know. I don’t go there. But hang on a moment. Hasn’t he been visiting academies and free schools lately? Maybe that’s where he saw these antiquated methods.

This week I have interviewed a primary teacher about using Skype, a secondary teacher about putting videos on a learning platform so they can be seen on the other side of the world. Meanwhile in Sidcup pupils at Burnt Oak School are working in groups using MissionMaker from Immersive Education to create games and learning how to include triggers that make things happen on screen.

I know that the teachers I talked to for my new book Brilliant Ideas for using ICT in the Inclusive Classroom don’t stand in front of a class and talk. They have too much of a sense of survival. They would be slaughtered.

Mr Gove, you need to get out more.

Brilliant Ideas for using ICT in the Inclusive Classroom by Sal McKeown and Angie McGlashon is now available from the site

Don’t miss this assistive technology training!

Switch accessible activities
Training with Ian Bean

Assistive technology expert Ian Bean is running a series of online training events. Ian is famous for his work a Priory Woods School where he created a host of imaginative and fun activities for young people with profound disabilities and learning difficulties. The switch accessible version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight has livened up many a stodgy training session!

The four events run between November and February. Sign up now for the most enjoyable in-service training you have ever experienced.

Course Title: Making Something Happen (5-part series)
Session Two
Topic – Assistive Technology/ Switches
Date/Time: November 30, 2011 11:00am CST
Session Two: Making Something Happen
Description: This session will look at the early stages of using switches as an access method for
communication and learning. We’ll examine experiential learners and how we might facilitate the
transition toward early control with switches and how we might meaningfully embed the use of switches at
a cause and effect level across the school day.
Certification of Attendance provided after attending webinar
Registration Link:

Course Title: Extending switch use beyond cause and effect (5-part series)
Session Three
Presenter: Ian Bean
Topic – Assistive Technology/ Switches / Cause and Effect
Date/Time: December 14, 2011 11:00am CST
Session Three: Extending switch use beyond cause and effect
Description: This webinar looks at developing switch use beyond the cause and effect stage toward
making meaningful choices with one or two switches. We’ll examine the different routes we need to
facilitate for one and two switch users and explore meaningful activities to embed switch use at this level
into your school day.
Certification of Attendance provided after attending webinar
Registration Link:

Course Title: Getting the most from your switches AWAY from the computer (5-part series)
Session Four
Presenter: Ian Bean
Topic – Assistive Technology/ Teaching of switching skills
Date/Time: January 18, 2012 11:00am CST
Session Four: Getting the most from your switches AWAY from the computer
Description: This webinar looks at the development and generalization of switching skills away from the
computer. We examine the role of switch controlled toys, lighting and other electrical equipment and
single message and step-by-step communication devices in the teaching of switching skills.
Certification of Attendance provided after attending webinar
Registration Link:

Course Title: Communication Devices in an Inclusive Classroom (5-part series)
Session Five
Presenter: Ian Bean
Topic – Assistive Technology/ Communication
Date/Time: February 15, 2012 11:00am CST
Session Four: Communication Devices in an Inclusive Classroom
Description: This webinar looks the use of single and multiple message communication devices and how
they can be used as an integral part of the school day. We’ll examine vocabulary, motivation and share
ideas and examples that you can use in your classrooms the very next day.
Certification of Attendance provided after attending webinar
Registration Link:

Up to one in ten affected by dyspraxia

Dyspraxia affects, “up to ten per cent of the population and up to two per cent severely. Males are four times more likely to be affected than females.” (Dyspraxia Foundation).

Dyspraxia Awareness Week runs from 6-13 November. Why do we need these awareness weeks? Many conditions get a lot of recognition and media coverage –think autism, dyslexia, and behavioural issues. Lesser known conditions get overlooked and so parents, teachers and therapists are less clued up and children’s needs can be overlooked.

the cover of How to Help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic ChildMy new book How to Help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child features two boys with dyspraxia, Matt and Jake. You will also meet Rupert who has both dyspraxia and dyslexia. This means that not only does he have problems with words and symbols (dyslexia) but also with the messages from brain to body (dyspraxia) so he may also find tasks involving fine motor skills or organising himself a challenge.
Children with dyspraxia may demonstrate some of these types of behaviour:
• Can’t keep still
• Very excitable and may have a loud/shrill voice
• Prone to temper tantrums
• May constantly bump into objects and fall over
• Hands flap when running
• Finds it hard to pedal a tricycle or similar toy
• A very messy eater. May hate the texture of certain foods
• Over reacts to noise and lights
• Has problems holding a pencil or using scissors.
• Can be slow to respond to what people say and have problems with comprehension
So what did our parents notice?
• He was very slow to do things such as doing up buttons, tying laces, catching a ball, riding a bike.
• He held his pencil in an odd way and was always writing with his hand twisted over so he was writing back on himself
• His reading was good too; it was his writing which let him down
• He was so accident prone, we used to joke that he would fall over his own shadow.

For more information, buy the BOOK which is out at the end of the year

Real Training recognises the most special school

There is some amazing work done in special schools and yesterday I met many teachers from schools shortlisted for the TES Award for Outstanding Special Needs School of the Year.

The finalists were:
The Bridge School, Telford, Shropshire
Frank Wise School, Banbury, Oxfordshire
James Brindley School, Birmingham
Newman School, Rotherham
The New School Butterstone, Dunkeld, Perthshire
The New School at West Heath, Sevenoaks, Kent

Pupil from Newman School shows Lorraine Petersen and Sal a magic trick

This award was sponsored by Real Training which specialises in online training courses such as the National Award for SEN co-ordination, an essential qualification for Sencos and the Certificate of Competence in Education Testing which means schools can use in-house expertise to assess children.

The ceremony took place at Park Lane Hilton with comedian and impressionist Rory Bremner as host. I was sitting with Lorraine Petersen, CEO of nasen the professional body for special needs staff. One young man from Newman School in Rotherham is a member of the magic circle and entertained us between main course and pudding with card tricks.

Mark Turner far right with winning school

The winning school was New School at West Heath in Sevenoaks, an independent school with a therapeutic unit which specialises in treating children who are severely traumatised. The school’s motto is “Rebuilding damaged lives” and they work with children from all over the country who have been abused or neglected.

At the end of the ceremony Lorraine Petersen turned to me and said, “Every day the government criticises schools and says the standards are not high enough. Events like this prove just how wrong they are.”

Mark Turner, Managing Director of Real Training, was delighted with the awards. He said, “I am so proud that Real Training can sponsor an award like this. Today, we have seen so many positive examples of excellent work in special schools which turns children’s lives around.”

Great day in Worcester

Big thanks to everyone who came to my training day last Friday in Worcester. It was organised by Walford and North Shropshire College and brought together staff from further education colleges across the region. It was called From Theory to Practice and the idea was to develop lots of practical activities to use in the classroom with Foundation level students. These may have learning difficulties but certainly will have literacy issues and be ‘quick forgetters’ so teachers will need a variety of materials and approaches to revisit the subject matter in different ways.

I wanted to make it a very lively course with lots of group work and hands on activities to do. I was lucky as the delegates were keen to take part. We took the theme of food hygiene and played card games, made a podcast about a dirty hotel, created pop ups so when the mouse hovers over a picture of a chicken, information about temperatures pops up.  We played with PhotoStory and Smart Notebook software to make some drag and drop and rub and reveal activities using visuals and a kinaesthetic approach.

By the end of the day we all knew more about food hygiene than we thought was possible and the delegates had a workbook of materials to adapt for their own subject.

Check out the PROGRAMME here. Similar courses can be booked through Martin Smith at Education Associates

Education Associates Limited 07932 179320

Pitching and Dealing in Manchester!

Yesterday I went on a Pitch and Deal course run by the National Union of Journalists in Manchester. I chose Manchester for family reasons and had a great night out at Dimitris Tapas Taverna – a cross cultural confusion if I ever I saw one. Check out their website You won’t thank me for this but it’s fine once you get past the first page.

Role Play

Anyway, on to the course. There were only 7 of us so we got a lot of practice at role play. I started the day off pitching a piece about technology for older people. Lisa, a freelance music journalist and photographer, obligingly played an editor. Each time the group stopped me and we started again, Lisa sounded more abrupt and short tempered – so like real life. In the end I would rather have chewed my arm off than pitch to her again. I resisted the urge to apologise for troubling her and tried very hard not to waffle on about my experience and why I was the only person who could produce the copy.

Good Networking Opportunities

One of the other course members was Louise Bolotin. We got talking about epilepsy. I have just finished a big article of Special Children and won a Responsible Reporting Award from the National Society for Epilepsy 2 years ago so it is a subject dear to my heart. Louise developed epilepsy a few years ago and has written Epilepsy: The Essential Guide. It was published by Need2Know earlier this year and the first edition sold out within a week. Louise is a very interesting person and in addition to her experience as a music journalist and a finance writer, she is also editor of Skin Two, a fetish magazine which produces a ‘coffee table’ hard back year book. Check out this multi talented woman at

Armed and Ready

The Pitch and Deal course was really good. Humphrey Evans & Phil Sutcliffe, the tutors, really know their stuff and after surviving the day none of us are going to be palmed off by magazines which say they have no budget. Oh no – we know the inside story now. For future courses, have a look on the NUJ site .

The only worrying thing about the course is that the group reckoned I had a natural talent as a commissioning editor, so maybe I need to look for another job now.