Points of Interest to the Education Sector
BATA Council Members and your Executive Director spend time on members’ behalf talking to others with an interest in the AT sector and gathering information and views to inform our approach to campaigning. If you are interested in education - as a supplier, a participant, or a professional - then you might want to read a short summary of some of the points we have picked up recently.
- Factors affecting communication by suppliers with the educational sector: As well as targeting State Primary and Secondary schools, suppliers should think about the Academy Chains, ‘clusters' of schools, and Teaching Schools (which have funding to deliver training to other schools currently but they may charge in future), of which there are currently 27 SEN and 320 mainstream. More ‘Free' Schools are already being set up. Some London Boroughs now have NO State funded secondary schools but still have a statutory duty in relation to Special Needs. School bursars have become much more powerful now they control bigger budgets and school offices screen all material sent to teachers/SENCOs, often binning anything that looks like sales material. As 95% of SEN children are in mainstream schools, communicating with those responsible for their education is resource intensive and difficult to make effective but more essential now than ever.
- Need to demonstrate what support is most effective: Because SEN Statements are expressed in terms of ‘hours of one-to-one support', that is what schools and parents focus on, even though a TA may not be the best solution, so parents, teachers and SENCOs need to be helped to understand that AT/AAC/ICT can be as valuable and effective as TA time. There is a key role for TAs as AT/AAC/ICT facilitators. We need to be able to demonstrate that AT/AAC/ICT is more likely than TA time alone to empower the child, enabling him or her to be more independent longer term and outside school and to benefit more from education. IT use should be built into TA and teacher CPD and INSET days.
- Pupil Premium: There are Government plans to increase PP funding by about £900 per pupil in 2013/14, boosting expenditure by up to £95m (primary) and £103 (secondary). Research on the BESA website www.besa.org.uk says that schools will use their new freedoms to make ‘evidence-based decisions to purchase quality resources' and that ‘more than half' of the English maintained schools (263 primary and 169 secondary) surveyed had already carried out needs assessments on their pupils. 68% said they intended to spend ‘at least a little' on digital content and software and 64% that they were ‘considering allocating some to ICT hardware'. An earlier piece of BESA research (1.2.13) had shown that school budgets were up 2.6% in 2012/13, with ICT up by 1.9%, the only area of decline being stationery.
- Changes in the way special needs are assessed and categorised: The Equality Act means that since Sept 2012 schools have to supply whatever is needed to make ‘appropriate adjustments', and that includes AT. Schools are losing the School Action and School Action Plus categories, so there will only be one SEN category in future. Statements (already hard to obtain in many areas) will become Education, Health and Care Plans which will go up to age 25. Parents frustrated by the lack of action within schools may seek to sue for their rights under the Equality Act, but it will take time for case law to build up.
- Exhibitions and shows in the education/AT/AAC/ITC sector: Traditionally a good opportunity for teachers and others to learn about AT/AAC/ITC and for suppliers to demonstrate what is available, exhibitions here and in USA are being affected by cutbacks to educational budgets, with fewer in education being given time off and travel expenses to attend. What are seen by many SMEs and microenterprises as high costs for the business gained are also affecting the number of exhibitors. However, with the move to teacher-led spending, the need for suppliers to communicate direct with them has never been greater, so exhibitions and shows will continue to play a part. One way to attract educational professionals is to include a CPD (Continuous Professional Development) element through seminars, demonstrations, training opportunities etc.
- Considerations for lobbying/campaigning: The current Government sees its DfE website as its main source of communication with teachers (though in reality, it may not be used as much as Ministers would like). Those supplying the education sector need to be regular visitors to check what the key policy developments are and any changes being made. As well as Ministers and officials, campaigners need to target the Shadow Cabinet, MPs on specialist or Select Committees, and MPs working on relevant Bills (e.g. Children and Family Bill). Currently, DfE policy and curriculum documents make little or no reference to AT/AAC/ITC. This may be because it appears that DfE Ministers are more interested in WHAT children learn (hence the focus on the curriculum) but much less on HOW, so while Computing may appear as a subject, IT (in any form) as a teaching method probably will not.