Life in a special school

19th May 2006 at 01:00
It doesn't seem that long ago that I was reproducing lesson plans and worksheets using a Banda machine, getting covered in purple ink and high on the aroma. At one school I also had to hand-write all my lesson plans because the headteacher thought a word-processing device would encourage "cheating" and he wanted us to consider and plan for each minute of each day. We took photographs of the children in the old days, of course, but that meant finishing a film before you could take it to Boots, and waiting a week for it to be developed. And then you had to have all the pictures you took, even the ones with people's heads chopped off.

Now we can photograph a child on an outing, choose the best image and send or email it home the same day. Children with severe learning difficulties are often unable to tell their parents about their day and, as our parents can be anxious about what their, sometimes very complex, youngsters are doing at school, a digital photo can be reassuring. I remember when my school got its first video camera. "This will be great for record keeping,"

we enthused. "We'll be able to take it on visits and show the parents what the children can do." Unfortunately, it was a cumbersome machine and we needed a buggy to carry its battery, a member of staff to push the buggy and someone else to carry the heavy camera. We ended up inviting our parent helpers on the outings to look after the children, which somewhat defeated the object.

I remember, too, the first communication devices. When I started teaching, children with communication difficulties could only use speech, sign or point at pictures. As technology advanced, so did the range of devices; switches that could be programmed to say "yes" and "no", and later whole sentences. Now we have hi-tech machines with such multi-layered and complex systems that special schools have to hire technicians, and speech and language therapists - traditionally people persons - have become machine persons.

I also remember the quantity of cardboard files, with all the documentation we needed standing in rows in offices: files for minutes, agendas and course notes; files for policies, guidance and research; files for lesson plans, schemes of work and assessments. Now the paperless office is here.

Do I hear you snigger? Yes, if anything, my office is fuller than ever with the produce of a fair-sized forest threatening to squeeze me out. The Government is doing its bit to help by making some documentation only available as a download - a good idea on their part. But then we download the document in our time and at our expense, put it in a file, and on a shelf it goes. Maybe my children's generation will have this paperless office thing sussed, but in the meantime pass me that Banda fluid, I'm going to take a deep breath.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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