Special educational needs

9th February 2001 at 00:00

"Our kids are not necessarily ready for education between 9am and 3.30pm, so the service is available 24 hours a day and some patients use it to deal with their anxieties," says David Hampton. Not many children have watched a lion undergoing a vasectomy in South Africa or talked to an under-water diver as he swims along the Great Barrier Reef, but the last thing children at the James Brindley School need is conventional teaching. This hospital school in central Birmingham is the main base for seven hospitals, four teaching units and all the home teaching for sick children.

David Hampton is the man behind the technology. He is developing a virtual classroom for the children, bringing the outside world to their bedside. Portable computers and printers are plugged in at the side of beds and children use CD-Roms, Internet and email as a matter of course. When children are ill or facing operations, they will not be working at conventional times and the national curriculum and examinations may be the last thing on their mind, so technology has to accommodate their needs. But far from falling behind their classmates at school, these young people are learning to create their own websites, producing stunning work, and returning to their classes with additional ICT skills gained during their time in hospital.

One of the most interesting concepts that David has developed is the idea of "informed consent". He has devised methods of teaching students who are about to have major surgery all about their condition. In some cases, they use the Dorling Kindersley Human Body CD-Rom, in other cases they get on the Net to do research. The aim is that they will make an informed decision about whether to have the surgery and what it will involve.

The use of video-conferencing has opened up many opportunities for the children. The school has purchased PictureTel's LiveLAN which produces near-broadcast quality audio and video and uses it to link up children both within their own hospital and across the world. A young Kosovan patient talked to people in her own country for the first time in a year and they have hooked up with astronauts in the US.

Children who are in isolation wards can take part in lessons and activities, relieving some of the loneliness and boredom. While Ofsted was in the school, a child who was unwilling to come to the classroom because of a tracheotomy joined in a lesson via video-conferencing. He felt so much a part of the group that he decided to attend the classroom lessons the following day. At Christmas, the carol service involved children who were not well enough to attend the hospital chapel and a live interactive link to a school in Slough.

David has set out to turn the school's vision into a reality for sick and injured children. Most staff were very wary of the new technology but have been guided and supported to enable them to learn new skills. He has helped other teachers to use the equipment; but much more importantly, to understand its capabilities and find ways of using it appropriately in their own teaching. One of the interesting side issues is that the medical staff have learnt a great deal from David. The digital camera is in demand to record medical conditions and the video-conferencing is also about to be pressed ito service by ethusiastic doctors who have seen what he has achieved.

Action points

* Use video-conferencing to help children link up with others

* Make use of a wide range of ICT including music, video, audio

* Use portables to take technology to the children

* Use ICT to empower children to make choices about their treatment

* Liaise with the previous school


David Nicholls at Thurlow Park School is no stranger to awards. When he introduced computers into his art teaching in 1988, the results were so outstanding that the work went on show throughout London and he was asked to contribute to journals and conferences. "Computer use in schools was still in its early stages so we were totally unprepared for the way ICT would revolutionise our practice," he says.

In 1994, he won the BerolNSEAD Award for Curriculum Development. The award was given specifically to bring the work of the school to a wider audience, and to make his practice available to mainstream art teachers. This was achieved through the publication of Pooling ideas: on art and imaging, a book full of colour illustrations of students' work. Now he has been highly commended in the SEN secondary category of the awards.

David teaches art at Thurlow Park, a special school for children with physical disabilities. Pupils can choose to use paint and other media but most find it frustrating as they cannot control a paintbrush, so good results are difficult to achieve. "Some of the children have little motor control," says David, "And using traditional media was a physical battle." Computer-based paint packages have helped many of David's students to achieve startling results and produce high quality paintings and designs. It has also enabled them to experiment, improve their techniques and make decisions about how a composition should develop.

Now that the school has a PC network, digital cameras and Internet photographic imagery are used daily to give the pupils a pictorial record of their achievements. Images are printed for display, inserted into reports, and emailed to parents and friends.

Self-portraiture is a recurrent theme in his teaching and one which they approach in many ways. Recent explorations have used digital photographs transformed to outline images in MGI PhotoSuite SE software. The resulting outline images have been the starting point for self-portrait relief in plywood, foamboard, and cardboard. They have also used this technique for ceramic portrait sculpture with junior pupils.

"Self-esteem is vital for all of us and often depends on self-image," says David. "Displays of digital photographs assure the pupils they are valued as individuals and encourage self-awareness and self-acceptance.

Action points

* It is not the software but what you do with it - be adventurous

* Use a digital camera to photograph pupils and their achievements

* Print and display the results throughout the school

* Make email available and accessible to pupils and their parents

* Take every opportunity to share your skills and knowledge with others

Pooling ideas: on art and imaging ISBN 1 85856 0594 Trentham Books in association with NSEAD and with funding from the Arts Council of England Sally McKeown

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