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A groundbreaking project that helps pupils with complex physical difficulties communicate with their parents

A groundbreaking project that helps pupils with complex physical difficulties communicate with their parents

The background

Children often have little to say when their parents ask them "How was school today?" In the past, it was even trickier for pupils at Corseford Residential School to answer that question, as the school caters for five to 18-year-olds with complex physical difficulties, many of whom can find it challenging to communicate. Yet that question was the title of the groundbreaking research project run at the school by researchers from Dundee and Aberdeen universities.

The project

The "How was school today?" project focuses on empowering pupils through the use of technology to tell their parents or carers how their school day has been.

The technology tracks pupils as they move around the school, gathering data and information. Pupils control their communication aids in a variety of ways, including switches operated by their hands or their heads. Some record voice messages, while others use computer screens attached to their wheelchairs to pick words and symbols. Pupils can then edit the information, deciding what they want their parents to hear - or not. However, a member of staff also works with each pupil to help them choose the information that is recorded to be presented at home.

The scheme was designed to help improve pupils' communication skills, aid language acquisition and increase parental involvement. Deputy head Fiona Catterson told TES earlier this year: "The technology lets people find out how clever our pupils are. Just because they have no speech doesn't mean they can't think for themselves."

Tips from the scheme

- Pupils in special schools need the same opportunities to talk to their parents about their day as those in mainstream education.

- Different pupils require different methods.

Evidence that it works?

The project has received highly positive feedback from parents and teachers at Corseford, which has seen a major increase in parental involvement. Dundee University has presented the system around the world, receiving positive feedback. The scheme won ICT initiative of the year at last year's TES Schools Awards, with judges describing it as "life-changing" for the pupils who used it.

The project

Involved Corseford Residential School and Aberdeen and Dundee universities

Started: Collaboration on the project began in 2008

The school

Name: Corseford Residential School

Location: Renfrewshire

Type: A residential independent special school run by Capability Scotland

Pupils: 55, almost evenly split between boys and girls

Intake: All have complex physical support needs

Fees: Up to #163;29,328 a year for day pupils, who are the vast majority, and up to #163;58,881 for boarders.

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