Many individuals and groups work with ICT for SEN – Inclusion Networks aims to pull them together, says John Galloway
Inclusion NetworksThe Inclusion Networks is a new, developing organisation connecting all the diverse groups and individuals with an interest in the use of ICT to support those with special educational needs (SEN). Whatever labels we attach to learning difficulties  – “Dyslexic,” “autistic,” “blind,” “deaf,” “troubled” – technology can have a role to play in supporting these learners.

Some difficulties can be overcome, others are lifelong disabilities, but all have some impact on learning which ICT can ameliorate. This organisation, emerging from the SEN-focused community, is intent on trying to help that to happen and will build on its inaugural meeting at BETT 2012 in Olympia, London, on Friday (January 13).

 “There are already organisations and interest groups that represent various aspects of SEN and inclusion,” says Carol Allen, an advisory teacher specialising in ICT and SEN in North Tyneside, one of the principals of the new organisation. “Technology has profound implications for this area, particularly at a time of little government understanding of the issues or the technology. We are at a point where technological developments are rapid, and new products, like iPads and their rivals, are opening up exciting new potential for learners.

PiccarolAllenCarol Allen“That’s why we felt that there was a pressing need for an organisation to bring together all the different groups – the teachers, researchers, charities, suppliers, parents and even the young people themselves, to focus their energy and expertise on emerging priorities. The removal of Becta, the only national organisation with a team with a strategic role for this specific area, makes this even more important.”

The creation of The Inclusion Networks is an attempt to address this concern, to connect up and bring together SEN and inclusion professionals for the common purpose of ensuring that children and young people with challenging learning needs get the best technology available. Following a successful exploratory meeting in London in June, where the widest spread of stakeholders came together to explore the benefits of establishing greater co-ordination across the various sectors, plans for the new organisation are well under way.

'Many services are becoming increasingly isolated'

“Despite the undoubted potential and benefits of social networking, dialogue sometimes needs to be face to face – if only to extend online relationships and to enable linkages made online to develop further," says Chris Abbott, reader in e-inclusion at King's College London. "Opportunities such as The Inclusion Networks are thin on the ground at the moment, but at a time when many services are becoming increasingly isolated, those attending will welcome the chance to confer on common issues.”  

The Inclusion Networks is a diverse range of individuals, groups and organisations – consultants, therapists, researchers, teachers, parents and peers, in schools, local authorities, universities, homes, charities and businesses. Some are focused on one particular area of need, such as cerebral palsy, others on the technology, providing communication aids for instance, and some, advisers for instance, on using it in classrooms.

Unsurprisingly, these disparate roles, individuals and functions are often already organised into groups and networks to share what they know and to pursue common interests. Whether this involves seeking funds for equipment, raising awareness of particular needs, or even lobbying for changes to legislation, they find that they can be more effective by gathering together.

Even though many members may find themselves sitting under more than one umbrella in these arrangements, it can be difficult to connect and co-ordinate them all, particularly since the hub that was the Becta inclusion team has been removed. The Inclusion Networks aims bring them back together.

'Technology plays a vital part in providing access to education'

LORRAINE PETERSONLorraine PetersonAs Lorraine Peterson, chief executive of nasen puts it, "Technology plays a vital part in providing access to education and the curriculum for many young people and this network will be able to ensure that the technology industry is providing schools with the relevant tools and training to support these young people."

To encompass all such interests requires not so much an umbrella organisation, as a gazebo. One that can pop up in different places, and provide a means for all the interested parties, - the schools, the charities, the individuals, the users,  and the providers – to explore their common interests, and find ways to get themselves heard, by those who need to hear them.

Open to all, and dependent on the good offices of many of those interested parties to provide venues and logistics, gatherings will provide attendees opportunities to make links and establish common positions on the issues that arise. As a network of networks it will act as means of building alliances, and of providing access to the broadest range of people involved in this crucial field.

It is, believes Lorraine Peterson, "A wonderful opportunity to bring together the experts in the field of ICT and SEN to support schools in ensuring the best possible outcomes for our most vulnerable young people."

More information

Follow The Inclusion Networks by joining the Facebook Group and watch for opportunities in your area to get involved.

BETT logoThe inaugural meeting of The Inclusion Networks will be held in the SEN Theatre at BETT 2012 at 1.30pm on Friday, January 13.

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