Last week Insane Logic hosted an event titled ‘SEN and tech: can new technologies level the playing field in SEN?‘. It was attended by a number of SEN professionals and representatives of tech startups to discuss the big issues facing the Special Education Needs sector, as well as the role which technology could play in helping to level the playing field for children with differing needs. There was also an opportunity for the SEN tech startups to showcase their own solutions to problems that many SEN professionals may encounter.
Following an introduction by Insane Logic chief juggler, Zoe Peden, it was time for the event’s two speakers Carol Allen and Barbara van Mirren, before a panel discussion with Ark schools and questions taken from the floor.
Delivering a keynote on the subject of Creative Communication using Technology, Carol Allen, the School Improvement Advisor for ICT and SEN in North Tyneside LA, stated the importance of communication, as it is “what we’re about as human beings.” Furthermore, she highlighted the importance of inclusivity in technology, how the right technology can allow an individual to express themselves in a way they otherwise couldn’t – citing the example of a child using digital video (dubbed a “gamechanger”). SEN tech companies, argued Carol, needed to “dare to be different” and that by offering people a choice, it gives them a voice.
The event’s second keynote, on Changing Lives through Choice was delivered by Barbara van Minnen, Service Development Manager at SENDirect. Like Carol, Barbara expressed the importance of choice and how the lack of it is the problem faced by the SEN tech industry. The tech companies in attendance were challenged to be ambitious and to consider this alongside current user behaviours. By involving supported individuals or families in the product testing phase, it makes them more in control of what they want from the technology on offer.
The speakers were then joined by Carly Biggam, a speech and language therapist who works in the Ark chain of academies, for a panel discussion. Questions first came from Zoe, before the floor was opened up for attendees to pose their own. The result was a number of topics being discussed, such as the challenges outside of technology (The need to upskill teachers and support workers), the #SENChat community on social media as resource for discovery, the best payment model for SEN tech startups and the difficulty of understanding data generated in school.
There was also a positive outlook regarding the question of whether new technologies could level the playing field in SEN, with Carol Allen arguing “It can’t ever level the playing field. I can’t ever make things the same as for a child without learning barriers…but we can at least give them a voice.” This was echoed by Barbara van Minnen, who believed that by offering more involvement to families in the development of new technology, it offered them the opportunity to help shape the SEN tech market.
The startup companies in attendance were:
- Brainbook – the company behind ‘Dyslexia Toolbox’ with a focus on making dyslexia technology easier to use across all platforms.
- Enabling Play – an accessible games design studio whose first project, iPad game ‘The Amazing Adventures of Millie Moreorless’, is designed to help children with Down’s Syndrome get better at maths.
- Filisia – who address the problem of patient engagement through gamified rehabilitation exercises and musical expression.
- MyCognition – whose products train all areas of cognition, enabling SEN children to improve their performance at school by treating the causes of their difficulties, not the symptoms.
- Night Zookeeper – a digital learning tool which inspires children to write through competition in a world of endless possibilities.
- Provision Tracker – creators of a web-based tool which enables schools to identify, track and report the cost and impact of provisions on the progress of young people simply and effectively.