Chris Abbott reports on how special needs schools are using the power of the Web as a prime motivatator.
Most of us discovered a long time ago that you never quite know what you will find on a website - even one you have looked at before. This is not always true of school sites; some of them don't even look as though they are updated as quickly as their printed brochures. Special schools tend to be the exception however.
Special schools have been going through an even more difficult time than mainstream institutions in recent years. They have had all the same pressures as other schools, and have had to recognise that to survive they must change radically in the years ahead.
That's why special schools are using their websites to share their resources with others, very much as national policy suggests they should. Horton Lodge school in Staffordshire, for example, is running a teacher and classroom assistant exchange programme, described on the website of this special school named by OFSTED as a centre of excellence. Rainbow school in Bedfordshire is also remarkably generous in making its curriculum resources freely available. Its site offers Individual Education Plans (IEPs), modular curricula and advice on transition and mobility. Let's hope those who are quick to download these Word documents are just as quick to email their comments back to the school.
Many more special schools offer to share resources like this, and they can be found on the growing list of such websites at the Internet and Special Schools site. Some sites may not overtly offer resources, but they can be just as useful to the teacher looking for ideas; there can't be many schools with a Zen garden like the one Frank Wise school in Banbury is contemplating. Perhaps contemplation is part of the process - although the grant from Marks amp; Spencer will help as well.
Celebrating success is always a good use of a website, and it is disappointing to see schools not doing it more often. Special schools have always been skilled in this area, especially when the progress achieved may be small but, nevertheless, significant. Sometimes it can be nationally noticed however, as when Foxdenton School in Oldham achieved great success in wheelchair dancing. In a clever move which others could follow, Foxdenton's site is sponsored by Inclusive Technology. Other companies looking for a special school site to sponsor are welcome to contact the Internet and Special Schools Project.
One problem with displaying work by pupils is that it may unwittingly infringe the anonymity which should be accorded to all young people on school websites; first names are OK, but second names should never be listed or attached to photographs. Great Ormond Street hospital school in London has taken this seriously and set up a password system for young patient' personal webpages; passwords can be given to family and friends but no one else can access the pages.
Security and privacy online are big issues for all schools, and many special schools have led the way in developing good practice. One of those which has explained the issue in helpful detail on its website is Springwell Dene school in Sunderland. The school, which caters for secondary age pupils who have behaviour problems, makes use of a wide range of online communications, including chat; but everything is moderated by a carefully configured filtering system.
More and more people and institutions online are linking up into what are usually called Web rings - collections of sites which share common interests. St Vincent's school for the blind is very involved in this. Its site belongs to rings for the blind, teachers, disability and special needs. Some of these rings are very much led by US institutions, and some may be culturally less than a good fit with European styles. The Special Angels Web ring, for example, set up to link parents caring for disabled youngsters, may be just a little too cute for UK tastes. The St Vincent's site has links to these and other Web rings.
There are more issues to be dealt with in the months ahead; including advertising, which is beginning to appear in the form of banners on some special school sites. Other schools are using their websites to build on their existing international links, often with significant email involvement. A good description of how this can develop the curriculum of a special school is given at the Little Heath school site, with growing links between Essex and California, Missouri and Canada. The school site also describes an excellent scheme called Net Links.
Dr Chris Abbott is lecturer and researcher in ICT, literacy and special educational needs at King's College, London.
The Internet and Special Schools site aims to list all the special schools and Pupil Referral Units in the UK - and there must be many more we haven't found yet. Please email Chris Abbott at firstname.lastname@example.org to get your school added and suggest a description which can be made available.
Dr Chris Abbott's website
The Internet and Special Schools
Frank Wise school
Fox Denton school
Great Ormond Street Hospital school
Horton Lodge school
Little Heath school
Springwell Dene school
St Vincent's school for the blind