Case Study: Accessing the right equipment for SEN

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How do you access the right equipment to support pupils with diverse needs when you need it? Ensuring that all pupils have access and full entitlement remains a challenge for many schools. In this article we learn how Treloar School and College is reaching out.

Last month, Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families announced new measures to provide better support for SEN pupils and disabled children. This included a review into the supply of teachers trained to meet the needs of children with Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD) and Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD).

Mr Balls has also commissioned work to develop special schools as leaders in teaching and learning practice for children with the most complex needs. Both are interesting developments and point to a greater understanding from Government of the challenges facing SEN professionals in mainstream schools. More importantly, it shows that the Government is now listening to the concerns of teachers, parents and pupils. 

Until now, the Government’s Action for Inclusion programme has meant more young people with a range of learning difficulties and disabilities are attending mainstream schools and colleges. The Office for National Statistics estimates there are now more than 600,000 young people in the UK with Learning Disabilities and or Learning Difficulties (LDD), this clearly represents a significant number of students. SEN students attending mainstream schools is not in itself a bad thing and many SEN students benefit from the experience. SEN professionals in mainstream schools are knowledgeable and dedicated and as a result students often receive first class care and education at their local mainstream school.

However, with the deluge of SEN students entering mainstream education, some SEN professionals are struggling to meet the needs of students demonstrating increasingly complex and unique needs. Despite the undoubted professionalism of those working in mainstream education, some pupils are failing to have their needs and capabilities successfully assessed. This in turn can have serious consequences for their future emotional and academic development.

Although the Government’s renewed interest is good news, practical solutions to problems facing SEN professionals need to be adopted. In response to this need Treloar Schools and College has launched the first mobile assessment service.

Treloar School and College

Treloar has a long history of supporting disabled young people. With its origins going as far back as 1907, it has steadily grown to become one of the country’s leading providers of education, care  therapy, medical support and independent training. The school itself is a non-maintained special school for disabled pupils from seven to 16 based in Hampshire. The Treloar College is a Beacon status specialist college for disabled students aged 16 and over.

The school and college, however, extend much further than their own grounds. Through the development of extended services they now reach out to a wider audience with a whole range of off-site activities. These activities include setting up outreach service agreements and the recently formed ‘Treloar’s direct’ which aims to take the school’s in-house expertise to the community and beyond.

Treloar’s direct

Treloar’s recognizes the difficulties that mainstream schools can face. Professionals with considerable experience of working with children with learning difficulties are increasingly finding themselves teaching children with conditions unfamiliar to them. Someone who has worked for years with children with fairly mild learning conditions may now find themselves asked to provide support to children with much more complicated needs that might include physical as well as mental learning difficulties. In some cases the students may have a high degree of ‘technological dependence’. To expect staff to instantly understand the complicated nursing or health care procedures required to care and educate these students seems unfair.

Many mainstream schools find it necessary to send SEN students elsewhere for comprehensive assessment and evaluation. But it is not always that simple. While some schools may find they are in close proximity to specialist centres and assistive technology experts, others in more isolated areas may struggle to find realistic venues for students to be assessed at. This adds significant transport costs to schools’ outgoings. It also involves taking SEN students out of the learning environment and taking up valuable staff and/or parent time.

Tony Reid, Chief Executive of Treloar School and College explains how the school’s mobile assessment service can help: “Through Treloar’s outreach programmes we have first hand experience of working with SEN professionals in mainstream schools, and colleges. As a result we recognise the difficulties they face. Most mainstream schools simply don’t have the funds to buy the permanent on-site specialist equipment necessary to assess SEN pupils. And even those with a strong reputation in the area of SEN provision can find there are significant hurdles to be overcome in terms of experience and expertise. “

Rather than mainstream schools sending SEN students elsewhere for comprehensive assessment and evaluation Treloar have equipped themselves to enable them to take the equipment out to schools instead. But how? Tony Reid explains:

“After much thought we realised that the best way to achieve this was by developing our own mobile assessment vehicle under a new programme, Treloar’s Direct. The first service of its kind to bring a full assessment facility directly to schools and colleges. We have a custom-built vehicle, the Trailblazer which has the space and configuration to include the most up-to-date assistive technology equipment. The service provides students with learning difficulties and disabilities with individual assessments which include an evaluation of their mobility, posture, communication and ICT access needs.”

The programme includes staff with the necessary expertise. Assistive technology engineers and therapists who are used to working as a team accompany the Trailblazer.

The difference it makes

The facilities the Trailblazer provides can have life changing results for those children who are assessed. Treloar’s student, Sarah, has severe cerebral palsy and as such has no useable natural speech or control of her limbs. In the not too distant past, Sarah relied on a manual wheelchair controlled by her carers. However, after being assessed by the same assistive technology found in Treloar’s Trailblazer, engineers and therapists have successfully created a chin switch that Sarah can use to control a custom-made electric wheelchair. This has allowed her to move around independently, something that would have been unheard of some years ago.

Schools and colleges are benefitting from a service which often drastically improves the learning experience for their students. Local authorities are also enthusiastic as it offers a cost-effective and responsive service. 

The future

Currently the Trailblazer is looking to help SEN professionals and students in London and the South East. Given the huge demand, they expect it to become a nationwide service in the not too distant future. The Trust is already discussing school visits much further afield. But the Trailblazer cannot be the only solution. Much more must be done to support SEN professionals in mainstream education. The expectations placed on them at present are unrealistic, particularly those SEN professionals in isolated areas. The Trailblazer should be only one of a number of services available to them. The Government’s planned reviews of SEN services and teachers need to provide some of the answers to the growing problems faced by SEN professionals in mainstream education.

Every Child Update