First blow struck against disabled children with Government's closure of Becta
The announcement yesterday that Becta (responsible for technology in schools) is to be scrapped as part of the Government’s £6 billion of efficiency savings is a huge blow to disabled children in mainstream schools.
Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are crucial for the inclusion of many children with Special Educational Needs (SEN). See these five areas highlighted by Becta where technology is vital in inclusion planning. See also this report on the many benefits that inclusive ICT provides for children with disabilities.
The announcement that Becta is to be closed appears to flatly contradict David Cameron’s promise during the election campaign that he would make it easier for children with disabilities to attend mainstream schools.
This move will undoubtedly make life harder for them. No alternative for the inclusion work that Becta provides has been suggested or costed in the Government’s cuts, which will end Becta’s inclusion work in the following three areas:
Home Access packages designed to help with homework or times when a child cannot make it to school (disabled children are far more likely to have to attend hospital and other appointments or need time at home) are designed to be inclusive and are built with every child’s needs in mind.
You can see a video of how their assistive home access technology works here.
A suite of assistive technology software is pre-loaded onto every computer, which is particularly important for learners with special educational needs.
It has also been recognised that some learners may need extra help with accessing computers and the internet so assistive technology hardware is also made available.
Assistive technology for disabled learners
It isn't just in home access however, that Becta has provided assistive technology. Becta was identified as the lead organisation to take forward actions from the Bercow Report relating to alternative and augmentative communication (AAC).
Communication is of course, fundamental to inclusion for many disabled children, and this includes young people who have no speech, or where their speech needs to be supported by technology. This might mean for example they need a speaking device or software on their computer.
The Lamb inquiry: Special educational needs and parental confidence, suggested that where a young person lives can determine how much support they get. The work of organisations like Becta is crucial therefore in levelling the playing field with regard to inclusion.
The closing of Becta also brings an end to the grant programme it ran providing £1.5 million for AAC.
Inclusive Commissioning of technology
Simply having the technology available however, does not automatically ensure that it is used, let alone that its use is inclusive. Becta recognises that there are issues around the levels of awareness and expertise required, which it provides.
This includes having:
• awareness of what technologies are available
• expertise in assessing young people and determining which technologies will be most beneficial
• the knowledge that the support will be available to continue to monitor and reassess what is needed and that equipment will be provided when the need is identified.
This can be a complex process.
Although, typically, technology will be purchased by health or children’s services, a multi-disciplinary approach is needed to support the child in using the technology. This includes experts such as occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and teachers. Where this multi-disciplinary approach works well, it is done through a joint commissioning process involving Becta.
Becta helps to ensure that schools use technology in an inclusive way. They point out that simply "putting the kit in" to a school is not inclusion. Success requires training and professional development which Becta provides.
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