Seeing is believing: what's playing at the forum
"ICT is central to everything we do," says David Keeton, deputy head of The Forum School, Dorset, which specialises in autism and holds the prestigious Becta ICT Mark for its excellent provision.
"Our students tend to be visual learners and they love using ICT," he explains. "Computers don't judge their idiosyncratic behaviour or see their disabilities."
ICT has a part to play in every aspect of life at this residential school, from assessing pupils' progress to communicating with parents. Statement review sessions include PowerPoint shows, with images of students' achievements, helping pupils to take an active part in the review process. Students can also contact their families via e-mail and webcam instead of a phone call; this can be very reassuring for parents, particularly those who have non-verbal children.
Thanks to effective training, all staff members are confident with software and imaginative use of ICT throughout the curriculum is a keynote at The Forum. Interactive webcams placed in the school grounds and in a nesting box project images of badgers, deer and fledgling birds on to whiteboards in the classroom. In the spring, students were able to watch the whole nesting process, from nest building with the first pieces of moss to the birds laying their eggs and keeping them warm and the hatching of the fledglings.
In PE, pupils enjoy an interactive sports wall with touch-sensitive lights. "Many of our students aren't motivated by PE, but they like a good workout at the wall," says Alex White, the ICT co-ordinator. Optimusic, an interactive audio-visual system, enables pupils to create a wide range of music, sounds and images by moving through the brightly coloured light beams.
As for software, an essential for non-verbal students is Communicate: In Print, a desktop publisher from Widgit. This generates the picture symbols (PECs) used for everything from the minutes of the school council meetings to lunch menus.
A favourite range is 2 Simple, which is applied to writing, photo editing, art and music. Pupils find is easy to use, yet it produces sophisticated results. CrazyTalk 5, by Reallusion, is a recent fun addition to the software battery. Here, students can take a still picture and create an animated, 3D, talking character, bringing Henry VIII to life, for instance. Much of the software can be used just as successfully in mainstream settings; simplicity and adaptability are the main concerns when choosing new programs, according to Mrs White.