The government has missed a chance to ensure children with special educational needs (SEN) benefit from assistive technology in plans for the biggest shake-up of the SEN system for 30 years, according to the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA).
Under reforms announced by children’s minister Sarah Teather, parents are to get a new legal right to buy in specialist SEN and disabled care for their children. They will be given the option to control their own personal budgets for their disabled children, rather than local authorities.
BATA, which represents leading assistive technology organisations, believes that the Department for Education has failed to recognise the benefits assistive technology can bring in its proposals for reform.
“The paper essentially overlooks the potential for assistive technology to enhance lives and improve educational outcomes for children with special needs,” said Mark McCusker, chairman of BATA. “In addition, assistive technology has the potential to save money, which in a times of austerity, surely should rank highly."
“There is a strong focus in the Government’s response to the public consultation on its green paper on more profound disabilities with relatively little emphasis on cognitive, non-visible disabilities.
However, children with cognitive disabilities account for the biggest proportion of the SEN group: many assistive technologies offer great potential to improve academic performance for this group, for example, assistive technology has helped deliver improvements of up to 40% in reading comprehension within a targeted SEN group.”
BATA welcomes the proposal that augmentative and alternative communication aids (AAC) may become a core responsibility of the NHS Commissioning Board. “If this brings better provision for children with severe communication difficulties that will certainly be valuable, but this is a tiny fraction of those who can benefit from more standard, mainstream assistive devices and software,” said BATA council member Ian Litterick.
“In an era when technology is so important to all our daily lives, it is a terrible waste to underemphasise the value, the empowerment, the learning and above all the independence that technology can bring to children with special needs. Often this technology is quite mainstream and quite low cost.”
The proposals, set out in the Government’s formal response to the public consultation on its green paper, Support and Aspiration, will be included in a Children and Families Bill announced in the Queen's Speech.