Category Archives: youth and community


Max is a champion of inclusion!

max blog
Max the Champion


Look at this picture. What do you see? Ordinary people going about their everyday life. At last: an inclusive book!

Max the Champion by Sean Stockdale and Alex Strick illustrated by cartoonist Ros Asquith shows a day in the life of a boy who is sports mad. Max also happens to have a hearing loss. He lives in the world most of us inhabit where there are people of different races and religions and some who have disabilities and additional needs.

It is lively and entertaining and comes with some free resources on including sticker templates and a lesson plan.

There is so much you can do with this book. Use this page as a stimulus for discussion, drama and creative writing. Here are some suggestions to start you off.
1 In groups choose names for the characters.
2 Which character will find it hardest to go shopping?
3 Which character will face the most prejudice?
4 Choose one character and create a Day in the Life. Write or perform it

The possibilities are endless!
Max the Champion is a hardback book available from all good booksellers or from the publishers

Making a little bit of money go a very, very long way

It’s My Money Week and I have been hounding the good people at pfeg, the UK’s leading finance education charity for some case studies. From September financial literacy is going to be a compulsory element of the National Curriculum- and about time too.

I have talked to three schools which are all creating innovative projects for young people who are out of mainstream education and it is heartening to see how committed teachers are to developing money sense in the next generation.

The trouble is that so many of the resources schools have do not accord with life in the UK today. Budgeting and savings advice are all very well but they depend upon you having money to start with.

For those families trying to find their way through the maze of benefits there are no easy answers. If you are subject to the bedroom tax do you:
1 Move house and incur all those moving costs?
2 Stay put and lose 14% from your benefits?
3 Get a payday loan to tide you over and get a takeaway to cheer yourself up as you won’t be going out?

Pfeg and Money Saving Experts are doing an amazing job but it is an uphill struggle. Look at what Oxfam said last week:

‘Food banks are reporting that most of those accessing their services are low income families in crisis, many of which are working households. 62% of children in poverty are living in families where at least one parent has a job, indicating that wages are too low and that current Minimum Wage legislation is not adequate to lift people out of poverty through work.’

Walking the Breadline The scandal of food poverty in 21st-century Britain

Olivia Barker is making a difference in Kampala

Olivia Barker in Kampala
Kids Club Kampala

Olivia Barker is 23 years old and has a day job as a project officer for an international development agency.

For the last four years she has devoted her spare time to running a charity called Kids Club Kampala  which works with vulnerable children and women in the slums of Uganda.

Now her efforts have been recognised by Vodafone who have given her a World of Difference Award which will let her work for the charity full time in Kampala for four months.

She first visited Uganda in 2007 and was shocked by the living conditions. The slums are hotbeds of crime and violence. Sanitation is poor. Children often have only one or two items of clothes and do not own shoes so it is impossible to keep clean and away from infection.

After she left Uganda, Olivia kept in touch with local translator Sam and knew that money was running out. She returned with a friend and together they founded Kids Club Kampala. These days they support over 4000 children in 16 different communities throughout Uganda

Now, thanks to the Vodafone award, Olivia can focus on the charity and put it on a more professional footing. She hopes to raise money and make more people aware of the plight of these communities.

‘People live in very overcrowded conditions where disease and illness are rife. Many walk the long way around it in order to avoid the dirt and the open sewers,’ said Olivia. ‘I want to raise money so that these children know they are loved. I want them to have the chance to play, have fun and just be kids for a while.’

If you can help or would like to donate to the charity, please contact

Deaf young people on the Buzz

Gok Wan
Gok Wan offers advice to deaf young people

Gok Wan, famous for his programme How to Look Good Naked, once advised a young deaf girl: ‘Don’t be self-conscious of your hearing aid! Embrace it and show it off!-Maybe you could customise it with some fabulous diamante, to really make a statement out of it.’

Now young people can put his advice into practice.

Covering and customising hearing aids
Customising hearing aids

On the Buzz, a forum run by the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS), has a section called Ear Art with ideas for designs and ways of using nail foil stickers to cover hearing aids or cochlear implants.

The forum is where deaf young can find out about events around the country and meet their contemporaries online. It can decrease social isolation and give them ready access to events and links to other online resources such as Your Local Cinema , a one stop site with information about showings of subtitled films.

The Buzz also provides guidance for young people who are trying to make plans for their future. Paul’s story is about going to college and becoming more independent while Sam’s story is about taking up an apprenticeship. Priya’s story will resonate with many young people at this time of year as it is about tactics and resources to counteract the stresses of preparing for examinations. See stories here.

Shout Out for Voices

I have always loathed the voices on speech synthesis. I know disabled kids who think it is a laugh to sound like a Dalek but I think it’s sad and particularly depressing for adults who might have all their materials for a degree course read out in a robotic voice. But voices are getting better and I have two good news stories

First JISC TechDis commissioned CereProc to create Jack and Jess, two new high-quality voices that can be used with text-to-speech tools. The big story is TechDis has managed to obtain a wonderful licensing agreement so that all staff and learners in publicly funded post-16 education in England should be eligible to download the voices free of charge.

That means that if you are studying in Adult & Community Learning; Further Education; Higher Education; Offender Learning; Sixth Form Colleges; Specialist Colleges; UK Online Centres; Voluntary Sector; and Work-based Learning you won’t pay a penny. Ask at your education centre or college now.

Alistair McNaught, Senior Adviser at JISC TechDis is excited about the prospect of real voices for the estimated 4.5 learners out there who could benefit. ‘Now hundreds of thousands of print impaired learners have a decent voice to listen to while they are studying and won’t be embarrassed if they want to access talking materials while they are out walking or doing household chores. The stigma about using such software tools vanishes. This will have a massive impact on their productivity and confidence.’
Click here for more information

Voices for children
It’s not just adult voices which are improving. Rosie and Harry were shortlisted for the BETT ICT Special Educational Needs Solutions 2013. 74,000 children and teens in England cannot speak for themselves and need a voice for their assistive technology. Rosie and Harry are the first English voices for children. Acapela Group and AssistiveWare best known for former BETT winner Proloquo2Go have pioneered the development of these voices which in time will become available in other products too.

Harry sounds pretty normal but Rosie is definitely Home Counties which means girls will sound more like Hermione from Harry Potter than Lisa Simpson. More news here.

Anna Reeves, National AAC Coordinator for England
Anna Reeves, National AAC Coordinator for England

Anna Reeves, National AAC Coordinator for England said, ‘These new voices will further transform the lives of children who cannot speak and the lives of those around them. It may be the very first time that families hear their own children speak with a child’s voice – you can’t put a price on that.’

Cheesy afternoon with Berkswell CE Primary School

pupils from BerkswellRam Hall Farm was awash with huge puddles as I made my way across to the milking parlour to meet the farmer Stephen Fletcher, chef Idris Caldora and Brian Hainsworth who works for the charity Farming and Countryside Education (FACE).

10 children from Berkswell CE Primary School were on a visit, accompanied by their class teacher Mr Penn and headteacher Tracy Drew. They were there to learn how ewes’ milk becomes the famous Berkswell cheese and to make some simple dishes with Idris, an award winning chef who has worked in many top restaurants and is now Executive Chef of the Adopt a School scheme.

We put on blue plastic hats and put bags on our feet to stop the spread of dirt and headed into the dairy to meet Lin Dutch, the cheesemaker and her team. We learnt about acidity, bacteria and germs, curds and whey and the wash needed to put a rind on a cheese. We sampled the whey and felt bags of cheese at different stage of production and marvelled at the cheese store which contains over 1500 cheeses at any one time.

The children then donned paper pinnies and a chef’s hat (small size) and under chef Caldero’s vigilant eye learnt to make Tomato Tarte and a Greek Salad which they took home with them.

They were joined by Meriden MP Caroline Spellman who turned out to be a good sport as well as a good cook as she pitched in and cooked alongside the children.

The event was organised by FACE

Read All About It with Symbol Support

With the Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee coming up, there has never been a better time to get young people interested in the news. But what if your children are not good readers? They may end up confined to the TV news which is so transitory that children cannot grasp it, let alone recall it.

News-2-You ( is an online newspaper aimed at pupils who need extra support for literacy. It has been created by special needs company Inclusive Technology, comes out fortnightly and costs just £99 for a single licence. It has speech and symbol support and brings over 200 pages of current affairs, features, activities and stories into the classroom.

Teachers can access News-2-You on an interactive whiteboard for whole class work or print it out for individuals. It has four levels of difficulty. The Simplified version gives a basic overview of the week’s key story topic with SymbolStix supported text. This is ideal for young people with learning disabilities who cannot access conventional print. There are three higher levels so pupils can progress.

In addition to the differentiated levels, there is also a text only version and all levels have a ‘speaking edition’. This means that the students follow the text as it is read aloud. Each word is highlighted as it is spoken.

Each edition features the story of the week which is the focus for a host of activities too. Recent topics including the Frozen Planet, Sports Relief Week, Animal Record Breakers and Star Wars – The Phantom Menace. It also has a World new section which has 2 or 3 substantial articles per fortnight and uses Google Maps to show where each story is taking place.

It is packed full of activities including worksheets for comprehension and literacy activities. But News-2-You is not all about the serious stuff. There is always a joke, a recipe for cookery lessons and some games.

Let the Games Begin!

MissionMaker software

I do like it when children get a chance to make and do, instead of just being consumers. I particularly like it at Christmas when companies are falling over themselves to sell us things we do not want, need or even like.

So I was very pleased to see that Immersive Education which produces the award winning games-making software MissionMaker is solving parents’ problems with a special offer in the Sunday Times.

Just think – instead of your children engaging in acts of bloodthirsty warmongering online, they can create their very own! If you have a creative in your family they can make the professional 3D computer game of their dreams because the software comes with a library of backgrounds, audio and video and special effects as well as props and characters.

Even better they can share the games with their friends online. With a bit of luck this will guarantee a calm and hassle free holiday period for families with gaming enthusiasts.

Until the end of December 2011 parents can buy MissionMaker for just £25. Find out more HERE

Be a creator this Christmas, not a consumer!

National Schools Film and Animation Awards 2010

Lady Floella Benjamin, chair of judges  for National Schools Film and Animation Awards 2010
A firm but fair chair of judges

Children’s TV presenter Lady Floella Benjamin is a superstar. She is also a great chair of judges as I discovered yesterday at the Bli National Schools Film and Animation Awards 2010 in Sheffield where a group of educators and journalists spent the day looking at over 40 shortlisted entries covering all the key stages.

We saw reworkings of familiar stories such as the Three Little Pigs and Tell Tale Heart, several pieces on internet safety and lots of entries focusing on environmental issues. There were some strong issues-based pieces covering teenage pregnancy, under age drinking and life in the run down areas found in so many cities in Britain. These would not have looked out of place on Channel 4 and were highly polished productions which avoided the sanctimonious preaching tone often associated with teenage documentaries. Other pieces were very school based and provided a little affectionate mockery of teachers, their habits and mannerisms.

As judges, we learned a lot about film making and animation as we got a crash course in what works and what doesn’t. You could see where entries were under-rehearsed or needed editing. It was obvious where technology dominated and the focus or storyline had become obscured. We talked about everything from the colour of titles to the use of camera angles and sound effects.

Floella is passionate about encouraging children to be creative but she is also a stern critic,” ‘Good enough’ is just not good enough. They should be aiming for the best,” she said of one entry. But she was also quick to point out where pupils had conveyed a story or communicated to their audience particularly effectively.

The results of the awards will be announced early in 2011 but you can be certain that whatever form the ceremonies and celebrations take, Floella Benjamin will be there, sharing her passion for creativity and encouraging children to try that little bit harder to be the very best that they can be.

Disabled people on the move!

A free exhibition called Transport for Disabled People is running at the Coventry Transport Museum until 4th July 2010.  It is a chance to see how people with physical disabilities have managed to get out and about since early Victorian times. It features early examples such as the old ‘Blood Wagon,’ a sort of long pram, and the Wicker Bathchair. 

An early invalid carriage

Then there is modern transport such as a converted Mini Traveller, with specially lowered chassis, complete with a minibar, tailgate and furry dice. Many of the exhibits have come from families or the Science Museum in London and they provide a fascinating insight into mobility.

I particularly liked the collection of invalid carriages – low cost, low maintenance, three wheelers which were supplied by the NHS in the 60s to people with physical disabilities. My aunt Edith was issued with a blue invalid carriage.  She had very restricted movement down her right side and could not walk far after having polio as a child. She also lived in a rural area near St Helens. It was very lightweight: when she got stuck in the snow, a neighbour went out to rescue her and his burly son picked it up and carried it home! Although it was not a very robust vehicle, it gave Edith the independence to go out to work and the chance to enjoy a social life, visiting friends in evening.A green invalid carriage

One of the most striking exhibits at  the Transport Museum is Hardley ‘A’ Davidson, a fun machine which belongs to William Craner, a young man with cerebral palsy who volunteers at the museum. His dad built it to make life easier and more fun for William when he goes on holiday or for day trips.  The museum is launching a competition for schools called ‘Wheels for William’. The ides is to design a new wheelchair which will suit him and reflect some of his personality and interests. William is passionate about cars, goes to college and likes boating on the canal. The exhibition is open until May 20th and the winning entries will be on display until the end of the exhibition closes in July.

Coventry Transport Museum Hales Street Coventry CV1 1JD 02476 234270