The site provides special needs teachers and learners access to a wide variety of educational resources. It aims to be a model of accessibility, cutting through all the search problems involved in looking for a specific inclusivespecial needs resource on the Web. A key feature is the highly responsive search mechanism that allows users to enter specific criteria to find information matching their needs. This works by asking the user to answer a series of inter-related questions. The answers enable the search engine to select resources that match the query. There are three levels of questions, allowing the user to give more and more detailed answers to pinpoint highly relevant resources and information.
At the end of each level, the user may view the resources found or carry on to the next level to answer further questions and narrow the search. If no items are found that match the criteria, the system can help through either an "ask the panel" mechanism or by suggesting that the user poses their question to an appropriate on-line discussiongroup.
The system can collate the answers to the questions entered by the user into an e-mail format. The user can then compile this information into a question, which can be e-mailed to an appropriate panel. Or the system might suggest the user joins an on-line discussion group, such as the SENCO forum for issues relating to special needs co-ordinators, Senit for those interested in IT solutions for special needs, and Easy-speak for those interested in learners with speech and language difficulties.
The "add a resource" button allows users to submit resources to the site. Another key aspect is the news page which is regularly updated on all areas relevant to individual learning needs. Users may request e-mail notification about new material or news.
Initially, the site will focus on supporting teachers of pupils with special educational needs and will be of immediate interest to SENCOs, parents, learning support assistants, school advisers and inspectors. Plans for the future include access to materials to help planning for individual learning needs, and for learners themselves, including those with disabilities or learning difficulties, travellers and those for whom English is an additional language.
Chris Stevens is head of special needs and inclusion at Becta