SEN support in schools - teaching beyond exams

When we support SEN students in school we provide (or aim to provide) a mix of TA support, withdrawal interventions, differentiated teaching in the classroom and so on.  The aim of this is to help our SEN students access learning in class to pass exams or get better test scores.  This means we are brilliant educators and we can have a big pat on the back from Ofsted.  But does it?

Ask yourself two questions:

1.      How much of what you put in place supports their learning at home?

2.      How much of what you put in place will support their life after school?

Bet I know the answer – not much (if your answer is lots, well done, do give yourself a massive pat on the back from me).  The education system is so focused on results that we often forget about life preparation and this affects SEN student more than others.

When little Johnny has to read something, or complete something in the ‘real’ world will he be able to do it?  He had a TA to help him in his geography lesson to ensure he understood tectonic plates and ox-bow lakes (ahhh fond memories) but will he be able to read a job application or a medical form? Will he know how to do this without a TA?

Sarah has difficulty writing, but we don’t want to give her a laptop as she is slow typist so let’s have a TA scribe for her instead, that way she’s not disadvantaged.  When she leaves education, and has the most brilliant idea that will change the world, will she know how to write to people about it?  In all likelihood, no.  So humanity will die because Sarah wasn’t taught to type or use voice to test software.

OK it may seem like I am exaggerating, and I might be just a touch, but what if Stephen Hawking had only had a human TA to support him and hadn’t used all the other brilliant technology available to him?  How much would society have missed out on – LOTS. 

As educators, we need to start looking past the exams and getting the best results.  We need to ensure that we provide our SEN students with the best independent learning equipment and strategies so they can live beyond exams and be prepared for the real world.

Ironically, studies show that independent learning for SEN students leads to better results whilst they are still in school as well.   Independent learning also has a massive positive effect on self-esteem which again has a positive effect on learning so MASSIVE benefits for schools in the pursuit of the league table data.

But it’s not just about life after they leave school we should think about.  How much of the SEN support we put in place during the day is accessible or provided at home?  That fab piece of software in school – can they do it at home? Do they have a computer at home? Do they have internet access at home?  It’s surprising how many people don’t. 

Another thing I also hear a lot is ‘well they are quite slow at typing’. Ah right ok, how can they get better at typing? Practice?  Yes, they may have a condition which means their typing may not improve, or they are physically unable to type so let’s use voice to text software which is freely available on pretty much most computer software and phones.

On a side note – when training and discussing accessibility for children and parents, I ask how many schools know who has a computer at home and who has internet.  It’s scary how many schools don’t know. They assume everyone does nowadays but actually a lot of people don’t.  And you know the old joke about assuming things……..

Just to be clear, I am not advocating getting rid of TAs, far from it.  Correctly trained and used TAs are brilliant. However, in lessons they should never be recording information or writing for students. There is so much available to allow students to do this for themselves.

So, when we put in place all this support in school to be able learn about the Tudors (is there anyone who doesn’t know about the Tudors), will they be able to have that support at home?  And are we preparing them for life after school?   Let’s review our practice and move forwards. Stop disabling and start enabling our SEN students to live their life independently.





Innovations in Technology

Most people would agree that for children in the education system, the most important and most stressful time at school is exam time. What is key for students with dyslexia (and their teachers) is to remember that nearly all exams are not testing reading ability but knowledge of a subject. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial for struggling readers to be given the necessary support to read the questions. If you can’t read the question, how can you possibly answer it!

As a poor reader at school, I was fortunate enough to be assessed for dyslexia. The main outcome of this meant I was allowed an extra twenty minutes per hour of exam. This made a huge difference to me passing my seven GCSE’s and three A-levels and it has meant the subject of dyslexia has always been of interest to me.

Two decades on from leaving school, I now find myself attending major education and dyslexia conferences in the UK and abroad as part of the day to day marketing of the company I co-founded exactly thirteen years ago, Scanning Pens Ltd. Over this time, we have worked with different manufacturers of portable scanners including WizCom Technologies from Israel, Planon from Canada and C-Pen from Sweden. The technology we supply assists people with reading, data capture and translating.

Much of this technology was clever and state of the art thirteen years ago, however since then little development occurred from the manufacturers and so our business Innovations in technology that are enabling struggling readers to be independent. Jack Churchill from Scanning Pens Ltd considers how this new technology benefits those with reading difficulties and provides an allowable resource for access arrangements. However, two key elements have now transformed the business into good shape, so much so that our sales have been more than doubling every year since 2014. The first big development was gaining approval from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) for pen scanners to be used in exams. This was followed by us working with C-Pen to develop new state of the art pens scanners that have built-in cameras rather than scanners and that speak with a really good digital voice.

More than 50,000 children a year in the UK have help with reading the exam questions in their GCSE’s and A-Levels. Typically, these students are put in a separate room to their peers with a human reader. The advent of the C-Pen Exam Reader now means students who struggle with reading can be back in the main exam hall with headphones plugged in hearing any words or lines of text read aloud.

The arrangement is ‘centre delegated’, so a school can allow anyone who struggles with reading to use the pen, as long as it is part of their normal way of working. So as well as helping people who have Access Arrangements, this pen can now be used by people who didn’t qualify for Access Arrangements and for people who have English as an additional language. The device can also be used in Cambridge International Exams such as the iGCSE and in Scottish Qualifications Authority exams and the International Baccalaureate are expected to make an announcement this winter. It was vital when developing the C-Pen Exam Reader to take into account the exam board criteria that there should be no dictionary, no storage function and finally that it must stand out clearly in a busy exam hall as the approved one, hence the bright orange colour! The pen’s modern design means the device is half the size of previous portable pen scanners and at 50g is half the weight.

The pen has a LCD display, speaker and seven control buttons. There are two ports – a headphone port and micro usb for charging. As the pen is rolled across a word or line of text, a white light is emitted from the nose of the pen which works like a yellow highlighter in showing the user where the pen is moving. This means a student keeps their concentration on the page they’re reading and they don’t get distracted. Typically, a person who struggles with reading on their own and gets stuck on a word(s) would just skip out the word or guess it. Both skipping and guessing a word starts the process of devaluing the text and setting the person up to fail the task that has been set. By allowing the student to read on their own, it is engaging them in their study.

In a nutshell the C-Pen Exam Reader helps a school relieve the pressures of resourcing both exams and every day class room support. But most importantly a student equipped with a C-Pen is able to work and learn on their own. It increases independence, confidence and raises self-esteem, which ultimately sets them up for the real world where they’ll have to manage without the continual support of another human being. The Exam Reader has been used in the classroom and exam hall for one year, but is already having an enormous impact. Suzanne Hunt, Examinations Manager from the Henry Box School and Sixth Form commented: “She thought the pen was excellent and said she would prefer to use this than having a person read to her!” Whilst Nicole Dempsey, individual needs co-ordinator from Dixons.

Trinity Academy informed us that they “noticed a calmer and more positive attitude in exams and also increased grades/better results - sometimes drastically so - more in line with what we know the students are capable of”.

I’m very excited to report that the C-Pen Exam Reader has been shortlisted for the prestigious BETT Awards 2017 in two categories. The pens are £166.67ex vat and available in two formats, the C-Pen Reader which includes reading aloud, Collins dictionary, data capture and voice recorder, whilst the C-Pen Exam Reader only has the reading aloud functionality. Scanning Pens Ltd offers schools a 30 day free trial so they can effectively try before they buy.

Jack Churchill.

Scanning Pens Case Study - Jeanette Knowles, SENDCo from Wreake Valley

What kind of school do you work in?

We are an 11-18 mixed gender, secondary school in Leicestershire.

Did you trial the C-Pen Exam Reader initially, if so, what “review process” did you follow and what conclusions did you draw?

We trialed the C-Pen Exam Reader with a number of students and obtained feedback from the students themselves and from the teaching assistants. We also measured the change in the students’ability to complete assessments and classwork independently.

 What do you most like about the C-Pen Exam Reader?

It’s ease of use, exam approval and the light that clearly shows what text is being captured.

Please describe how you are using the C-Pen Exam Reader and how it has affected your students?

We use it with SEN/EAL students to access curriculum text and during exams. They are already showing improved confidence and independence. The students who piloted it have also encouraged other students to use them and clearly see the benefits of them.

How likely are you to recommend the C-Pen Exam Reader to others?