By Sally McKeown
Worries that no news could be bad news for Government plans for the Home Access project, and in particular what it intends to do for children with special needs, have led the chair of the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA), Martin Littler, to seek an assurance from education secretary Michael Gove MP on the fulfilment of the project.
Under the Home Access scheme, more than 250,000 homes will receive a free computer or broadband internet connection or both in an attempt to support families on low income with ICT for learning and reduce the effects of the "digital divide". (Update below.)
Home Access has also come to be regarded as the biggest assistive technology project ever. Three packages have been provided as standard to support high-incidence special needs such as dyslexia, visual impairments and some learning difficulties. These are Read and Write Home Access Edition, MindView 3 for concept mapping and iZoom to provide magnification and speech for pupils with sight problems.
'Some children are likely need more specialist equipment'
However, some children are likely to need more specialist equipment. Government ICT agency Becta, now facing closure, has estimated that approximately 11,000 pupils aged 7-14 have more complex needs which would affect their learning and their ability to interact with others. Such pupils might be completely blind, have communication needs or severe physical disabilities. It is these children whose fate hangs in the balance.
Following the recent embargo on contracts at Becta, no company had been awarded the contract to provide bespoke technology for these children.
Martin Littler chair of BATA and chief executive of Inclusive Technology has sent an open letter (download here) to seek assurances from Michael Gove that there will be a review of cuts and that the needs of these children will be borne in mind.
One father, who declined to be named, expressed anger at the news that the Home Access Project might be scrapped: "Damian has speech and language needs and after talking to the school we decided that the basic package was not going to meet his needs. We agreed to wait for the next roll out where he would be properly assessed. It is immoral if he doesn’t get a computer for home use when other children with less severe needs have benefited."
In answer to a written question about Home Access from Jim Cunningham MP (Coventry South), schools minister Nick Gibb MP replied (on June 8), "The Home Access programme will continue until the total available for grants has been awarded. The programme includes full assistive technology provision for learners with special educational needs (SEN) which is expected to continue until March 2011."
Sally McKeown is a freelance writer and is an expert in special needs and inclusion. She is currently working with Accessible Futures Ltd and Northgate, supporting a group of special schools in Kent through BSF wave 4.
Her website is at www.sallymckeown.co.uk