As a result of bidding processes, there are now about a dozen providers who are offering training in this area. So what sort of provision is available?
No single organisation can meet the needs of teachers of visually impaired pupils and those working with speech and language disorders or children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. In many cases, specialist organisations have got together to form consortia or have chosen to focus on just one area.
The Special Needs Learning Network, led by SEMERC (Granada Learning), is focusing on learning difficulties across the board including special schools. There are four main modules:
* Access to the curriculum that will help children get to grips with science, humanities or the other key areas in a meaningful way;
* Communication that covers sound, symbol, text and graphics;
* Then there is a multimedia option and higher order skills for teachers. This includes using the Web, improving productivity and making materials.
The training will be delivered through a combination of CD and Internet resources. There will also be software samples so teachers can try out different products and find out what suits their circumstances. Two key elements of their training will be online email mentoring and case studies that contain examples of real classroom practice. Teachers will build a portfolio by choosing a route through the modules, working through a range of case studies and completing a number of set tasks.
Elaine Hampson, ICT Consultant at Semerc, says: "Access to the curriculum is the major issue. Children need to be able to communicate and record their work. One school is sending emails to Peru - these are not in text form but have sounds and pictures they have selected and edited Even if children can't write, they can still communicate across the world."
The Deafchild UK Consortium, which includes among its partners the Deafax Trust, British Association of Teachers of the Deaf (BATOD), the Royal School for the Deaf in Derby, and British Telecom, proposes to train 450 teachers of the deaf over two years. Teachers of the deaf need to find out how to use ICT to support the core subjects of English, mathematics and science.
Babs Day at Longwill School for the Deaf in Birmingham explains: "There are many technologies for deaf pupils which aren't necessarily used in mainstream schools so we teachers have special needs too!" Inclusive Technology is the only SEN provider working in all four countries in the UK. It is concentrating on learners with profound difficulties. Its consortium is called the Inclusive Consultancy and Training Syndicate and includes a host of specialist partners including the ACE Centre North, the Centre for Micro-assisted Communication (CENMAC) and the Advisory Unit who all have expertise in communication difficulties. In Scotland there is the CALL Centre, SCET and Edinburgh University. Other partners include the Down Syndrome Association and the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Manchester Metropolitan University is validating the units and is responsible for quality assurance.
Although much of the training will be delivered via email and Web-based conferencing, there will also be the personal touch. Schools will get two days' consultancy with a technology expert who also has experience in supporting disabled young people in school.
Martin Littler, chair of the consortium says: "This is a one-off opportunity. All of us want to raise awareness of what's available for pupils with special needs. In SEN, the medium is the message and we can now give pupils the tools to help them communicate, understand and learn."
Sally McKeown is education officer for special needs and inclusion at BECTA The Needs Identification CD-Rom from the TTA will support this initiative and is available on request at www.teach-tta.gov.ukindex.htm