Making the Web a special place

8th January 1999 at 00:00
Why would special schools and pupil referral units want to use the World Wide Web as a publishing medium? Schools still use the Internet for finding information rather than for publicising their work. What could this narrow segment of the education market offer to the rest of us?

Chris Abbott, a lecturer at King's College, London, has set out to answer these questions in Making the Web Special. The book looks at why schools might want to communicate, their potential audience and the best way to structure information. There are also guidelines for getting a site listed and explanations of technical information for non-experts.

The best thing about the publication is the range of real-life examples: symbols at Meldreth Manor School (www.rmplc.co.ukeduwebsitesmeldrethindex.html) and graphics based on British Sign Language from Longwill School in Birmingham vie with a totem pole from Chesnut Lodge (www.rmplc.co.ukeduweb sitesches) and a beautiful garden with a sculpture produced by Springwell Dene with help from artist David Gross.

The research throws into sharp relief the inclusion debate. The number of pupils in special schools is declining. Now only 1 per cent of special educational needs pupils are hived off into specialist provision. This might seem like good news for the inclusion lobby but, unfortunately, as the number of special schools declines so does their importance as a potential market to stimulate software development.

When people talk about special needs these days they often mean a slow reader rather than a child with severe learning difficulties or cerebral palsy. Minorities are even more marginalised when everyone jumps on the inclusion bandwagon.

The argument holds true for the Web. The survey shows that while 90 per cent of secondary schools and half the primaries have at least one Internet connection, only 25 per cent of the special sector have a connection and 2.4 per cent are dependent on a staff member having an individual Internet account.

Abbott is clearly aware of the dilemma: "As the National Grid for Learning develops it will be vital to ensure that special schools and pupil referral units have their needs met and are not sidelined by developments aimed at the mainstream," he says. His agenda could begin to redress the balance.

Sally McKeown

'Making the Web Special' is free to all special schools and pupil referral units in England and Wales from Becta (see left).www.rmplc.co.ukeduwebsitescabbottspw.html

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