Educating young people to spot scams

Today I got a phone call from a woman claiming she was from O2 and that I would need to get a new SIM card from them as mine was about to be cancelled. For about 10 seconds I believed her. Then I hung up.

We all think we are savvy enough to spot a scam. Sometimes it is only when people ask for personal information such as our date of birth or they request our bank account details that we become suspicious.

In March Media Smart launched a campaign for teenagers. What is especially good about it is that it gives them strategies which if followed will make them less likely to be victims of fraud.

It provides links to sites which will teach them more about scams. It includes the government campaign Stop Think Fraud Here I learnt that in just one year, 1 in 17 adultswere victims of fraud.

An email or call will often appear to represent a company or charity. That happened in my case. They said that they were from O2. They insist that you must make a quick decision. That should be a red flag. Companies do not do that. In my case, I was told my mobile would be disconnected from the network in 48 hours if I took no action.

Over a thousand children and teenagers in the UK are scammed every month. Take Five – – is a site that tells young people to Stop, Challenge and Protect themselves. Their excellent site covers identity theft, payment in advance, and ticket fraud. People may think that they will not be targeted because they have so little money but scamming is never personal. It is not about who you are.

According to the government fraud is the main crime in the UK. Through a series of animated online films Media Smart resources cover different types of fraud:

  • cryptocurrency
  • online shopping deals
  • unauthorised access to webcams
  • fake scholarships
  • spoofing

Rachel Barber-Mack is executive director at Media Smart. It has been part of the Advertising Association since 2023. She said: ‘we are pleased to be supporting the UK government’s national campaign against fraud to drive awareness of scam ads to keep young people safe and empowered online.’

Check out Media Smart’s Scam resources at:

Lost for Words

It is generally assumed that young children will become more confident speakers as they grow up and go to nursery and school. But for one group of children this is certainly not the case. According to the British charity SMiRA (Selective Mutism Information & Research Association), one child in 150 is likely to experience selective mutism. A recent survey estimates that 1.7 million children – almost one in five school-age children struggle to talk and understand words.

This is not a high incidence disability but the figures suggest that at any one time a school will have a child who cannot speak in certain situations.  SMiRA describes Selective Mutism (SM) as ‘an anxiety-based mental health disorder, Those affected are able to speak freely in familiar circumstances such as with family in the home, but will remain consistently silent in others, perhaps exhibiting a blank expression or appearing ‘frozen’ when expected to speak.’

Research and support

The Selective Mutism Foundation in the USA believes Selectively Mute children have no related learning difficulties  and will talk and respond well in settings where they are comfortable and that some are able to speak on the phone because the face-to-face eye contact is removed.

Looking through forums around the world, the first impression is that there is not much known about the condition and a desperate need to find a ‘cure’.  However, as different organisations share research and examples, certain key piece of information are emerging.

We can now say with some confidence that it often starts between that ages of three and six, that mutism is not linked to speech/language deficits, abuse or emotional problems and that while the general figure  is one in 150, it is three times as common in bilingual children.

In Israel, Ruth Perednik heads a treatment clinic for children with Selective Mutism. Like many involved in this field, her interest was sparked by personal experience. She had just moved from Argentina to Israel when her four year old son, stopped speaking in kindergarten. She found the work of Maggie Johnson and Alison Wintgens especially useful and set about treating her son, both at school and at home. She researched the incidence of SM in immigrant families for her PhD at The Hebrew University and found selective mutism was significantly higher in immigrants than in native families.  She has developed a Selective Mutism treatment manual which has been published in English, and a Hebrew language treatment manual together with Professor Yoel Elitzur of the Hebrew University.

Research by Lorraine Carmody of the School of Clinical Speech & Language Studies at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland identified three key factors predisposing, precipitating, perpetuating. Children have an increased risk of developing SM because of genetic factors or a family history of excessive anxiety. Separation, trauma, starting at nursery, experience of bullying may precipitate selective mutism but it is likely to persist if children become socially isolated or find that they can convey messages non-verbally and so do not need to use speech.

The need for early diagnosis

Without early intervention, Selective Mutism may persist into adulthood. Melanie, who lives in the UK, is a case in point. She just talked to one friend at nursery who the staff used as a go between. The problem persisted into school but when Melanie was 9 her mother saw a programme on Channel 4 called Help Me to Speak and recognised many of the characteristics so contacted the family doctor who referred Melanie to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) who formally diagnosed Selective Mutism.

Sadly, because Melanie was diagnosed late her behaviour had become entrenched and she experienced further mental health problems including self-harming and depression. ‘Her SM is still present,’ said her mother, ‘but she seems to be coping a lot better having left her secondary school and is now attending college.’

Selective mutism around the  globe

This story is not unique. Generally, throughout the world SM remains under recognised and forums in India and South Africa feature parents’ experiences and worries.  Many are looking for a quick solution, something which will help their children be at ease and be part of a group. 

Brave Buddies is an intensive group behavioural therapy program in the USA that helps children with SM speak in school and other public settings. Using a simulated classroom, the program offers children a safe environment to practise ‘brave talking,’ perhaps talking on a phone to one person and then, with intensive support, building up to group talking. In some cases they offer drug treatments including antidepressants or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Some countries avoid medication. There is little research on the effect of these meds on young children and the long term effects or side-effects are unknown. Coming off anti-depressants sometimes results in another ‘downer’ which may exacerbate SM.  SMiRA’s view is that although medication may be considered in order to relieve anxiety in older children/teenagers, it should always be used in conjunction with a programme of behavioural therapy to alleviate selective mutism.

Phil Thomason is father of three children. The eldest was diagnosed with selective mutism in 2007 after 5 years’ silence in school settings. He is the International Representative for SmiRA and has close links with European organisations such as Ouvrir La Voix in France and AIMuSE in Italy. SMIRA has been helping a group of Polish parents and there are also parent groups in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Portugal.

He has been delighted by the preventative measures that are in place in Germany where the kindergarten has a planned step-by-step approach during those first few critical days in child care. The approach is known as the Berlin Model and is aimed at all children entering kindergarten.  It helps identify those children who might react badly: ‘This approach was used with my two younger children in Germany. I only wish it had been used for my eldest in another country.’

Dr Elizabeth Woodcock professional profile picture
Dr Elizabeth Woodcock set up the Selective Mutism Clinic in St Leonards, Sydney

Dr Elizabeth Woodcock has the challenge of geography to content with. She set up the Selective Mutism Clinic in St Leonards in Sydney in 2006. The clinic offers a service to children in remote and rural areas, and provides telephone consultations to parents, instead of the usual face-to-face sessions with parents and children in the clinic.

They also provide training by phone for the classroom teacher every month.  The techniques that will help the child to recover need to be practised many times each day and the parents and teachers are the ones spending time with the child. ‘The ‘school program’ is essential, as the child’s mutism is generally strongest in that environment.’

There are barriers: ‘The phone consultations that we provide to families are not currently covered by our government health rebates (unlike face-to-face consultations), so the expense is much greater for our remote families. Unfortunately, many families want or need to reduce the frequency of their sessions due to the ongoing costs, and this reduction in intensity usually means that treatment takes longer.’

Training is also difficult. The clinic runs seminars to train parents, kindergarten staff, school counsellors, learning support teachers and some speech pathologist. While there has been considerable interest in the training, not everyone can attend the seminars in person so they have been recorded and will be available on DVD in the next few months. See their website and Facebook pages for more information.

As well as behavioural support and drug therapies, technology has a role to play.  Michael Jones is a speech and language expert and co-author of Supporting Quiet Children with Maggie Johnson.

Tech support

Choose and Tell from Inclusive Technology encourages children with learning disabilities to make choices and develop stories. The program is widely used in special education but is becoming increasingly popular for children learning English as an additional language.

There is anecdotal evidence that Clarocom text communicator is being used by teenagers. It has text to speech prediction and phrase banks ClaroCom and ClaroCom Pro are both available for iOS and there is also Clarocom Free which uses the iOS system voices.

However, the program most often mentioned in connection with Selective Mutism is proloquo2go which proved useful for 15 year old Ellie as her mother explains:

‘From the day she could talk she’s not used her voice to people outside of our immediate family. Ellie is mute at school, with family we don’t see much, if people she doesn’t know talk to her when we are out, any family friends, basically anyone she doesn’t see as secure and completely trustworthy.

Proloquo2Go has definitely been a learning curve for all involved with Ellie – us, her carer, school staff and friends. She needs full prompts, and an easy grid to use so there’s not a lot to press which helps reduce her anxiety levels.  Also, I can see the history on how she has/hasn’t communicated in the day. Using the app has given Ellie an understanding that she has a voice, she can be listened to and has choices. This is still an ongoing exercise with Ellie and will be for a long time I think.’

A version of this article appeared in Special World in 2015

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:

#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 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

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

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 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:

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: