Helping hand

31st January 2003 at 00:00
Sally McKeown assesses software for target-setting and recording for children with special needs

Recording achievement is a very thorny subject for special educational needs co-ordinators (Sencos) and others involved in the education of children with special needs. With new disability rights legislation, there is an increasing emphasis on accountability and making sure that each child has an individual education plan (IEP) that is being put into practice.

Good records can help with target-setting, keep track of decisions and provide credible records that are less likely to be challenged at tribunals.

Data protection has been a key topic on Senco website forums. Schools must be registered under the Data Protection Act. Staff must tell parents that information is kept electronically and the child or parent can read their own record if they ask to do so. Hard disks must be password-protected and floppy disks should be stored securely.

Many schools have invested in a management information system (MIS). At their best, these save time and improve the flow of information between school, parents, LEA and support services. At their worst, they provide an administrative cul-de-sac where information goes in but little comes out in a usable form. It is important to make sure the people who will be using the systems are confident in their use of IT and, if necessary, to arrange training to support them.

The six products chosen for review are all different. Some, such as IEP Writer, are well established; others, such as Connecting Steps, are still evolving in response to requests from Sencos and teachers. Some are for use in mainstream schools where pupils will have lots of different teachers who may contribute to an IEP. Others are for use by a designated person.

A note of caution: many schools have noted that the statement banks and targets need modifying before use. The statements are based on what works for most schools but, to make the package truly effective, staff will need to fine-tune it to suit the strengths and limitations of their pupils.

Key facts to consider:

Basics Costs vary widely. Some products have modules that fit on a CD-Rom, others are complete management systems which generate a whole range of paperwork. Think about how confident your staff are and whether you need online or telephone support or on-site visits.

Content All six products reviewed will generate IEP plans. Some focus mainly on the national curriculum while others deal specifically with behavioural targets. Not all cover P levels. These are useful for special schools.

Printing Sometimes staff will need to produce paper-based materials. It is useful to brand these with the school logo to give a professional look.

Charts and graphs can be particularly useful for governors' meetings.

Compatibility The important thing for most schools is that information can be obtained in a range of formats so that staff do not have to input data more than once.

Ease of use Consider the costs of training staff to use the package. A good package has a clear intuitive design. Many teachers still have relatively low confidence in using ICT. The website and email support offered should encourage people to use it.

Quality of information All packages have a series of statements for staff to choose from. But topics covered, the number of statements and the detailed breakdown of skills and attributes differ widely. Some have generic statements, which are vague enough to encompass music or maths. The trick is to get precise, meaningful statements without difficulty.

PRODUCT Connecting Steps Summative Assessment B squared www.bsquaredsen.co.uk

SIZE Stand alone 20MB Network 100MB

COSTS Single user from pound;250

Network version from pound;750 Annual licence fee: none.

WHO ADMINISTERS IT

Sencoteacherclassroom assistant. Record-keeping is done by all.

IS THERE ONLINE SUPPORT

No, but will reply to emails and telephone queries.

Will it record:(a) P levels?(b) National curriculum levels?

(c) Behaviour targets?

(a) Yes.

(b) National curriculum levels 1 to 5 for most subjects.

(c) There are behaviour targets in PHSE and citizenship.

printing

(a) Will it produce class and school charts and graphs?

(b) Can I insert school namelogo?

(c) Is there a paper-based version?

(a) In next version.

(b) No, but they will do it for you.

(c) Yes.

compatibility

(a) Will it export to WordExcel?

(b) Can it be used as a module within Sims?

(a) In next version.

(b) No, but future versions may.

OVERVIEW

Connecting STEPs comes on a CD-Rom and brings together different subject assessments. Can print out sample pages from website.

VERDICT

Newer versions look very good but has the look and feel of a work in progress right now.

EASE OF USE OUT OF 10

6

QUALITY OF INFORMATION

5

PRODUCT

CSARS Csars Software www.csars. co.uk

SIZE

30MB

COSTS

Free 3-month trial. Single user pound;295 + VATNetwork version pound;785 + VAT (both include first year's licence).

Annual licence fee: pound;100 single user; pound;200 multi-user (both include upgrades and support).

WHO ADMINISTERS IT

Sencoadministratorteacherclassroom assistant.

IS THERE ONLINE SUPPORT

Yes. Also, the website contains a new discussion group.

Is there online support?

Will it record:(a) P levels?(b) National curriculum levels?

(c) Behaviour targets?

(a) Yes.

(b) Yes, L1-L8 for all curriculum areas.

(c) Yes, 15 levels for attention, independence, working with others and behaviour.

printing

(a) Will it produce class and school charts and graphs?

(b) Can I insert school namelogo?

(c) Is there a paper-based version?

compatibility

(a) Yes.

(b) Yes.

(c) No.

compatibility

(a) Will it export to WordExcel?

(b) Can it be used as a module within Sims?

(a) Yes.

(b) Yes.

OVERVIEW

Csars can produce charts to show individual progress or to compare class progress against national standards. You can work on data on laptops and reintegrate changes with other users.

VERDICT

Detailed but sometimes it's hard to see the wood for the trees.

EASE OF USE

7

QUALITY OF INFORMATION

7

PRODUCT

Enable software The Modbury Group www.enable-online.com

SIZE

12MB

COSTS

Single user pound;350 Network version pound;550-pound;1,450 depending on size of school.

Annual licence fee: none.

Offers site licence and annual rental options. Optional support contract.

WHO ADMINISTERS IT?

Any adult working with children who have behavioural difficulties.

IS THERE ONLINE SUPPORT

Yes.

WILL IT RECORD

(a) P levels?(b) National curriculum levels?

(c) Behaviour targets?

(a) No.

(b)No.

(c) Yes.

printing

(a) Will it produce class and school charts and graphs?

(b) Can I insert school namelogo?

(c) Is there a paper-based version?

(a) Yes.

(b) Yes.

(c) No.

compatibility

(a) Will it export to WordExcel?

(b) Can it be used as a module within Sims?

(a) Yes.

(b) No.

OVERVIEW

Enable Software is purely for EBD. Excellent support, friendly staff, pilot schools delighted by it but need to embrace whole package to get best out of it. Free demo CD.

VERDICT

Covers only one area (EBD) but does it well. If you want something purely for behaviour, this is the one.

PRODUCT

IEP Developer Special IT Solutions Limited www.special-it-solutions.co.uk

SIZE

30MB

COSTS

Single user pound;1,800-pound;2,400 depending on size of school.

Network version available.

Annual maintenance charge for upgrades and telephone support 25 per cent in second year; 15 per cent in third year.

WHO ADMINISTERS IT

Sencoadministrator.

IS THERE ONLINE SUPPORT?

No, but initial onsite support and telephone helpline.

Will it record:(a) P levels?(b) National curriculum levels?

(c) Behaviour targets?

(a) No.

(b) Yes.

(c) Yes.

printing

(a) Will it produce class and school charts and graphs?

(b) Can I insert school namelogo?

(c) Is there a paper-based version?

(a) No.

(b) Yes.

(c) No.

compatibility

(a) Will it export to WordExcel?

(b) Can it be used as a module within Sims?

(a) Yes.

(b) It will import data from Sims.

OVERVIEW

IEP Developer adopts a collaborative approach to developing targets and strategies. Will produce a detailed IEP on one sheet of paper.

VERDICT

Worthwhile only for large secondary schools. It is complex and detailed.

EASE OF USE

6

QUALITY OF INFORMATION

9

PRODUCT

IEP Manager SEMERC Granada Learning www.granadalearning.com

SIZE

4MB

COSTS

Single user pound;129 + VAT Network version available.

Annual licence fee: none.

Extra user CD-Rom pound;25.

Extra user licence pound;25.

WHO ADMINISTERS IT

Sencoadministratorclassroom assistant.

IS THERE ONLINE SUPPORT

Yes.

Will it record:(a) P levels?(b) National curriculum levels?

(c) Behaviour targets?

(a) Yes.

(b) No; it uses National Literacy Strategy and National Numeracy Strategy levels.

(c) Yes.

printing

(a) Will it produce class and school charts and graphs?

(b) Can I insert school namelogo?

(c) Is there a paper-based version?

(a) No.

(b) Yes.

(c) No.

compatibility

(a) Will it export to WordExcel?

(b) Can it be used as a module within Sims?

(a) Yes.

(b) It will import data from Sims.

OVERVIEW

IEP Manager has more than 2,000+ SMART targets.

Will produce review meeting letters for parentscarers. Fully compatible with the new code of practice.

VERDICT

Simpler though not as thorough as IEPDeveloper. Can be personalised so has been used in day centres with disabled adults too.

EASE OF USE

7

VERDICT

8

PRODUCT

IEP WRITER 2 Learn How Publications www.iepwriter.co.ukiep_writer.htm

SIZE

5MB

COSTS

Single user from pound;70

Network version available.

Annual licence fee: none.

WHO ADMINISTERS IT

Completely flexible. Can be used by any one person or all staff can collaborate.

IS THERE ONLINE SUPPORT

Yes.

Will it record:(a) P levels? (b) National curriculum levels?

(c) Behaviour targets?

(a) Yes.

(b) Yes.

(c) Yes.

printing

(a) Will it produce class and school charts and graphs?

(b) Can I insert school namelogo?

(c) Is there a paper-based version?

(a) Charts if used with Special Needs Register Plus. No graphs.

(b) Yes.

(c) Yes.

compatibility

(a) Will it export to WordExcel?

(b) Can it be used as a module within Sims?

(a) Word.

(b) Yes, officially recognised by CapitaSims for use with their product.

OVERVIEW

IEP Writer 2 is extremely quick and easy to use.JShortlisted for several software awards, this has many fans. Fully compatible with the new code of practice.

VERDICT

Easiest to use but does not give as much detail as other packages (which can be a good thing)

EASE OF USE

8

QUALITY OF INFORMATION

6

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