On Wednesday 17th June we hosted a webinar examining what the future looks like for SEN. This opened up a lot of great discussion amongst both the panel of SEN experts and the diverse audience of teachers, SEN leaders and senior managers. Raising interesting points about access to technology, engaging parents, key challenges for the future and supporting students emotional & mental wellbeing.
Read the panel’s thoughts on the most commonly asked audience questions from the day. And if you have a burning question about using technology to support your SEN students that’s not included, you can Tweet us @texthelp #SENFutures, we’d love to keep the discussion going.
I think it's very clear, we had some common themes throughout today; that inclusivity of access, that equity of access, focus on helping parents and also helping our students develop their skills and also on their understanding. It's a challenging year ahead for everybody, but I have no doubt that we'll all embrace it with the same sort of purpose that we did over the last few months.
Patrick McGrath, Education Technology Strategist, Texthelp
We've been sharing pictures of what the classrooms will look like when pupils come back. Which is quite helpful for ASD students, with less distractions. We're focusing a lot on well-being and resilience for our pupils on return to the classroom.
Vicky Schoenhofen, Specialist Support Teacher from South Lanarkshire, local authority
How can we incorporate these newly discovered different learning styles into our new normal of learning once back to school?
We know that technology has seen considerable growth in usage over the period of remote learning, and it’s brought out many strengths in our pupils. It's going to be important that we support and maintain this use going forward - embracing tools that have worked well, or that pupils have responded to. Helping to keep the consistency of learning in ways that pupils have enjoyed. CPD will be key to this as will learning from the community of educators what best practice looks like.
Talking in our school group about how to get the pupils to use the devices/tech appropriately once back at school, with social distancing still in place, support will be hard. How can we provide consistent, quality support with current guidelines in place?
Guidance is changing now on an almost daily basis - from smaller class sizes to new models of student bubbles. We’re going to have to be adaptable. We may have a long way to go before things are even close to how they were. Challenges may well be around device access more than classroom layout, because even if social distancing is less in place than first thought, cleanliness of technology may well become challenging.
We see a big regression in literacy levels (spelling and writing especially) not only in students with SpLD but in general, any suggestion on how to address that?
There may be many reasons for this - we’ve seen a lack of motivation in students and a thought that perhaps work wasn’t being checked or assessed as it usually would. We’ll need a focus on better feedback and a real effort to understand how to better motivate students when they are learning outside the classroom.
It’s also been important to strike a balance between technology and paper, and that balance still has to be found - it’ll be individual for most students. Technology though has a role to play here. As an example for writing in particular we need to understand how to provide motivation. These are all key to driving the levels upwardly. Level and frequency of feedback is crucial as has been providing work in smaller chunks than perhaps we did at first.
In terms of cultural poverty do the panel feel that there are any ways around this being an issue when such a lot of generic work is being issued electronically - especially for students with, for example SpLD dyslexia?
Absolutely, in terms of accessibility every teacher should be aware of the need to have resources be accessible, and the help and support to enable this. It’s also vital to provide students with the technology they need to support their learning. Tools such as Read&Write can help both ways - teachers to create accessible resources quickly and easily, and provide students with the support they need to have genuine equity of access. Generic content has to be available and suitable for everyone.
For SEND children that have alternative provision as part of their 'usual' support package, how has this been accessed/supported during remote learning? How would you see this evolving moving forward?
Each student has been treated on a case by case basis. For the vast number of students who require access to clinicians, carers or therapists that has continued unless of course they fall into the vulnerable category - we expect that to continue as the situation unfolds next academic year.
We need to continue the work we've been doing. Students have been getting more confident but the big thing we've noticed is that we need to up-skill parents and carers, particularly with our vulnerable groups.
Charlie Love, Education Support Officer for Aberdeen City Council
Please can you share the apps/tools that some of you are using?
Purple Mash, Loom, Screencastify (for video notes or creation), Seesaw, Read&Write, Google Classroom and YouTube have been the main tools, plus a variety of apps that support literacy and numeracy. Another great resource has been Oak Academy who now have both EYFS and SEND resources. There are also some good examples of tools on the DfE website.
We have been told that safeguarding does not permit any video connection with pupils under 16. What other support tools do you recommend to engage directly with students?
The current guidance on this is now thankfully much clearer - it is now up to the individual school to allow the use of video, assuming they are satisfied with safeguarding. There are a number of sensible steps to take around video, and tools such as Google Hangouts and Zoom now meet the requirements for safety and security. Union positions may well differ from this, but this is the official position of education departments now across all four regions in the UK. Video provides an important connection to students - but safeguarding is crucial.
Have there been any settings using a blend of physical and digital resources, for those SEND learners who need a more physical learning experience?
Some schools have provided physical resources as part of the ‘take home’ packs to students, whilst others have encouraged parents to include physical resources and integrate them. There has been no formal approach to this - individual teachers know best.
We took a very inclusive approach, so we were aware that this was an unusual situation, and it was really nice that parents felt that if they had a problem, or they had a concern, they could, kind of, chat using the Google Classrooms as well.
Kath Lawson, Director of Inclusive Services at Arete Learning Trust
How has parent confidence in supporting students with SEN been?
It’s been exceptionally good and supportive. For the majority of SpLD parents, they have been very aware and involved in supporting their children, in the main because parents understand the individual needs and have been integral to supporting their children prior to lockdown.
For parents where children require more general support, we’ve found parents are engaging with technology in particular and seeking help in how best to support them. We’ve had to ensure throughout lockdown that parents get support on both learning and on technology - that's been critically important. The parents role has been considerable.
How can it be advised to SLT that no engagement doesn't mean it's a SEND department responsibility? How can we encourage a whole school/all teacher responsibility?
Every teacher has to be a SEND teacher. The lock down has brought this home very clearly. DfE have driven the messages, as have SENDCos and teachers are now seeing first hand the real need to put accessibility and individual support front and centre. We’ve a lot of work ahead to do on this.
Engagement in general has been a challenge throughout lockdown - the average student is working on school work for two hours per day. While some students have excelled, many simply lack the structure or the access to be more engaged.
Level of work has also been an issue - in the early days of lockdown, the level of material sent to students was overwhelming. There are many reasons for lack of engagement, and as we reflect on remote learning SLT will have to understand the many dynamics that are outside of the SEND departments control and remit - this is about shared responsibility.
Do you advise hosting web tutorials with parents to show them Read&Write and other tools?
Absolutely, this is key to successful learning at home. Parents want to understand what these tools are, how they help and what they can do to utlise these tools to support their children. At Texthelp, we’ve built special areas for parents to help them in all these areas, and we've hosted webinars just for parents. We need to see others in the industry doing the same so teachers can help support the nuances of usage with individuals. There's no better time than now to get parents involved in learning and hopefully keep them there going forward!
We must be mindful of how tech is being used in younger years. We need to ensure it doesn't hinder socialisation, emotional development and speech and language development. It can't solely be the delivery method for intervention.
Simon Tanner, Director of SEND at Bohunt Education Trust
We are using Seesaw but struggling with 4 and 5 year olds with SEN - using picture exchange, thinking skills, turn taking and team building - still not sure how this can be covered through technology?
It's vital to have parents involved with the technology at this age level - supporting parents is key to success here. We also have to remember that technology has a time and a place for being effective, and understand its limitations. Turn taking and collaboration are hard remotely - so we have to focus on the areas we can work on. We’re never going to be able to replicate the classroom remotely and offer genuine holistic experiences.
I work in a Special Needs school as a SEN EYFS teacher. We’re really struggling with behaviour changes since returning 2 weeks ago. Any recommendations on how best to support students returning to school, especially younger learners?
As things look ahead, we may be in a more ‘normal’ environment than we first expected with less distancing and a reliance on bubbles. Taking time to settle students, to provide consistency and to reduce the visibility of obvious changes is important. These radical shifts in their young lives are hard, it’s going to take time.
When we haven't seen anybody for that first three months, it's been really, really helpful, I think to help people feel that connection.
Deborah Kennedy-Martinet, SENCo and Assistant Head of A'soud Global School
We have done primary and secondary live assemblies that have pulled the community together. What is the panel's experience of this?
These have been brilliant and very useful. School is about community, and live assemblies have been a great way to link everyone together, albeit briefly. But it’s not for everyone and we’ve had to respect that.
What strategies have been used to address mental health and wellbeing needs during this time? Have interventions been taking place to support students with this - the change, anxiety, isolation?
There are a number of steps to put in place that apply equally to classroom life, but the most important thing is communication - little and often has worked best. We’d recommend you:
It’s clear from both the panel discussion and the audience questions that keeping continuity of support is key for SEN students, whether in class, at home, or virtually. Read&Write is free for school teachers, to help you explore the software and the ways it can help support SEN students to read, write and understand curriculum content with greater ease and confidence.
Whether it’s in the traditional classroom environment or when learning at home or online, Read&Write offers consistent support for everyday tasks. To sign up, visit: text.help/SEN-support