Special needs on-line: the way forward

Tes Editorial

The launch of the Sensor special needs database on BT's CampusWorld could herald a new era in support for schools, parents and children, and help realise the enormous potential that communications offers special needs education.

Nowadays, special needs has a high profile, and the Education Act requires schools to introduce a code of practice and appoint a special needs co-ordinator (Senco). Even so, many teachers are uncertain where to find special needs resources or how to implement a workable special needs policy. Now UK schools are about to see significant improvements in support, with the Semerc special needs centre, Oldham, and the National Council for Educational Technology (NCET) both going on-line.

Semerc, which started life in the public sector as Northwest Semerc (funded by the Department of Education and Science), is now a Pounds 2million-turnover company in the Thomas Nelson Group. It has been awarded the contract to provide BT's SENSOR database and enquiry service on CampusWorld which now gives the organisation an instant global profile over the World Wide Web.

Martin Littler, Semerc's managing director, says "We want SENSOR to become a worldwide, world-class source of special needs information - particularly where computers are concerned. There is a desperate information gap for Sencos in schools, and our first priority is to fill it.

"The Internet offers two-way communication; we can put up a mass of information, and those who need to know can find us. It will be lovely to make our first contact with Outer Mongolia."

The SENSOR service will actually consist of seven linked databases with information on access devices and hardware and software for pupils with special educational needs, along with evaluations and reviews (some subject to negotiations with publishers). There will also be "public domain" software programs which subscribers can download to their own computers free of charge, information on exhibitions, conferences and events, and links to other special needs services.

Much of the SENSOR information, along with the free enquiries service which aims to answer every query within 48 hours, will only be available to CampusWorld customers within its "walled garden" service. But plenty more will be available on World Wide Web pages which will make SENSOR a world provider of information on special needs.

The NCET is also using communications to support special needs support. Already it is publishing special needs information on its World Wide Web Pages, and is using Internet electronic mail (e-mail) to co-ordinate a support program for Sencos in 30 schools.

"We're aiming to help schools meet the obligations under the code of practice," says Tina Detheridge, a programme manager. "One thing we've learnt is that there are no experts in this field. The expertise lies within the teachers in schools, and this is one of the most efficient ways of getting them to share ideas." The NCET aims to broaden the Senco project, so that other special needs teachers can share ideas across the Internet.

o Sensor will be launched at Semerc's Micros for Special Needs Exhibition in Oldham on September 27 and 28.

NCET: 01203 416994 SENSOR: 0161 627 4003 Semerc: 0161 627 4469 o The Health Education Authority is working with CampusWorld to create special education pages on the World Wide Web about mental health. The project is part of a range of activities to mark World Mental Health Day on October 10. As suicides of young men aged between 15 to 24 have increased by 75 per cent in the UK, the focus will be on young people.

The World Mental Health Day pages will be available from September 20. Check What's New on http:trail.campusworld.bt.net.8004campusworld.

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