Training for special needs

Sally McKeown

If Labour's priority is, "Education, Education, Education" then Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators' (Senco) priority has to be "Training, Training, Training," says Myra Tingle of the Centre for Micro-assisted Communication (Cenmac) as she outlines some of the changes she has seen over the past 16 years.

"Proper assessment, technical support and training for staff are all vital if the child is to make a seamless transition into the mainstream," she says. "Schools have a more open attitude to disability now than they did 10 years ago, but there is still a lot of fear. Teachers think they will be asked to do things they can't do. They see the disability and not the child. Once they have had training, they see that working with a child with a disability is not very different from working with any other child."

Perhaps as a result of NOF training, staff now want more guidance on ways of working and they are buying framework software rather than specialist curriculum materials. One example of this is Textease for Modern Foreign Languages. It's not a specialist language program but it can support accents and has speech engines for French and German. Chris Morris, of St Benedicts's RC High School in Whitehaven, Cumbria, has been trialling the program packs for Becta this year to see if it can increase motivation and support the oral element of language learning. Textease has a French speech engine so pupils can hear what is written on the screen. "The software helps pupils to retain information which they would not normally be able to hear so frequently. They are able to make independent choices about how often they replay times and can therefore differentiate oral work to suit their individual needs. This is one of the best pieces of software available," says Morris.

Staff are also looking at ways of giving more children access to ICT without breaking the budget. One increasingly popular solution is Calcuscribe which also comes recommended by the British Dyslexia Association. It is a lightweight dedicated word processor and maths processor. The keyboard is big enough for touch typing and it can hold 50 pages of A4 text at any time. Like its competitors, it is designed as a cheap way of collecting text before pouring it into a fully fledged computer for detailed editing and presentation. Unlike some similar products which look clunky, Calcuscribe is attractive. It also has large print on screen for those with sight problems and a simple facility to stop those with tremors repeating letters over and over again. At under pound;250 this is much cheaper than a laptop and a whole lot more portable.

Timely Reminders helps pupils at key stage 4 and adults to develop their memory skills. The programs are not designed to be used with material from an entire curriculum but to ensure retention of essential facts, figures and information. They can be used for any subject content and pupils or teachers can add in their own text, pictures, or sound.

Sally McKeown is a freelance writer

* Top 10 software

Calcuscribe. Price: pound;235 which includes the carry case and PC cable. Tel: 08001951992

Timely Reminders from CALSC. Price: starts at pound;55 for a single user version.

Textease from Softease. Price: see website or ring for prices Tel: 01335 343421

Touch Type from Inclusive Technology. Price: pound;42. Disability Clipart from Inclusive Technology. Price: pound;149 for each CD-Rom

Switchit Maker from Inclusive Technology. Price: pound;39 for single-user; pound;99 for

Dazzle Plus from SEMERC. Price: pound;75.00 for single-userwww.granada learning.comspecial_needsHyper

Studio from TAG Learning. Price: pound;

Clicker 4. Price: pound;90 single, additional pound;10 per user. Tel: 01604 671691

Book Spinner from Widgit Software. Price: pound;80 for single

* Top 10 websites

Becta's Inclusion site:

Rushbed Software - materials and activities for people with learning disabilities -

Clicker Grids for Learning: www.cricksoft.comcgfl

Ability Net - guidance for access issues:

Inclusive Technology:

Granada Learning: www.granada-learning.comspecial_needs


National Library for the Blind:

National Literacy Trust:

Network Training:

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Sally McKeown

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