Special educational needs

9th February 2001 at 00:00

Most teachers dislike having their lessons observed and it could be professional suicide when the pupils have learning and behavioural difficulties too. But Christine deGraft-Hanson took it all in her stride when the judges went to see her at Hedgewood School in Hayes.

The lesson involved using control technology and the class was divided into three groups. One group used LOGO to create shapes on screen. A second group worked on the Smart Box with the computer and also used a Clicker Grid and word processing to record their findings. Their task was to change the sequence of traffic lights so when the red light came on, a buzzer sounded to let a blind person know it was safe to cross the road. A third group worked on programming a Pip robot on the floor.

The two classroom assistants, trained and capable users of technology, took an active role in the lesson while Christine moved from group to group, acting as trouble shooter - intervening and supporting where necessary. Everything was clearly labelled and, on the accompanying worksheets, the instructions and key words were colour-coded for easy reference.

Christine has been a teacher at the school for four years and, as ICT co-ordinator, has found ways of helping teachers and classroom assistants make good use of the software library in simple but practical ways.

Staff and pupils are now using CD-Roms more extensively and Years 5 and 6 pupils are using key word searches to find information on a variety of subjects via the Web and CD-Rom encyclopaedias. They are gaining confidence in drafting and redrafting and using a spellchecker to develop literacy skills. Some pupils use Intellikeys for word processing and others have used the Infant Explorer website to work with email.

Christine is an enthusiastic user of Widget software and Clicker Grids and shares examples of the work done by her class with other staff to show how these programs can be used creatively to meet the needs of pupils throughout the school. A card file of useful websites is kept and, as staff come across new sites, they contribute to this.

Making the pupils skilled users of ICT is a priority. There are keyboard familiarisation sessions and all pupils manage their own files and can save their work to disk. Christine encourages pupils to use their initiative and take responsibility for their work, "ICT gives them confidence to apply their skills in all aspects of their learning," she says.

After training the staff and motivating the pupils, she has now set her sights on promoting ICT to the parents. She has organised coffee mornings to promote schoolhome links and has run familiarisation sessions for parents.

The school recently took part in a Parents Online week where parents had the chance to visit some of the websites their children use in school. As one judge commented, "Christine is a highly competent and enthusiastic user of ICT with strong views and great powers of persuasion."

Action points

* Keep raising the expectations of both staff and pupils * Take advantage of externally-provided training including NOF * Check out websites provided by software developers * Develop an ICT curriculum map, with a detailed breakdown of the skills appropriate to different national curriculum levels * Provde differentiated training sessions


"ICT should excite, enable and engage," says Helen Crawford of Murphy Crescent School in Bishop Auckland, Durham, joint winner of this award.

One of Helen's most spectacular uses of ICT was blackening the wheels of a JCB on a nearby building site, then getting the driver to drive it across paper to illustrate the concept of printing. The pupils are aged from 2 to 19 and have both severe and multiple learning difficulties, so it is vital to provide stimulation.

The judges were impressed by her novel approach to technology. "To her, almost any technology that will respond is ICT. Fairground trinkets that react to sound or to light are pressed into service to delight and capture the attention of the students." She has used such diverse equipment as washing machines, cheap fibre optics, power drills and light-up key rings in her lessons. "These inexpensive objects are readily available and can be accessed by our pupils using a range of switches," says Helen. "In this way pupils have control of technologies which we take for granted and from which they are often excluded."

The children are involved in an email penpal scheme which has put them in touch with pupils in special schools in Australia, Northern Ireland and Birmingham. This is a fun way to develop communication skills and students can get a prompt reply to any correspondence and can exchange information using symbols and photographs.

The multi-sensory room is particularly stunning. It is used not just to stimulate children, but as a curriculum tool to expand their understanding. As pupils listen to a space story they have helped to write, they also experience it - as images float across the walls, music plays and the floor vibrates. There is starlight on the floor, a black world, a white world and an interactive infinity tunnel which, in one judge's words, "would beguile any child". Children are encouraged to take control, inviting their families into the interactive room to experience the fun at first hand. Now staff from schools across the country are visiting Murphy Crescent to see what can be achieved in a relatively small space with a lot of imagination.

Helen is acting deputy head and her expertise has had a major impact on the school. She has identified software which will give pupils access to most areas of the curriculum and developed milestones and assessments for ICT. All staff, including nursery nurses and classroom helpers use ICT with pupils and have a clear idea of how technology can contribute to the individual child's development.

Above all, it is the exuberance and imaginative quality of her work with ICT which won her this award, but as one judge warned: "A school like Murphy Crescent and a teacher like Helen Crawford ask awkward questions. They are not super funded. The environment here enriches the lives of the students. Why can't mainstream students have environments that are as rich?"

Action points

* Use ICT to enhance pupils' access and autonomy

* Be imaginative in your use of ICT

* Simplify the kit to remove distractions

* Develop individual milestones and goals for ICT

* Involve everyone in a shared vision which will enhance the delivery of ICT within the school

Sally McKeown

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