John Galloway previews what's on offer for SEN and inclusion and special needs at BETT 2017

It’s January so many educators must be getting ready for the annual BETT educational technology show. There was a time when the show's 'special needs village' was dynamic, bustling and generated its own headlines. Competition was so intense there was even horse trading among exhibitors for stand space.

Those days are long gone now that the move from Olympia to London Docklands' ExCel has further corporatised the event, but there are still plenty of new developments to discover at BETT 2017 and the innovation continues unabated.

While BETT continues to develop as a trade show, with businesses talking to each other and countries trying to improve their exports, there is still plenty to attract classroom practitioners. Along with the latest developments from well-established providers there are also new technologies.

Cosmo a new take on switches for iPads, is up for award

Among the latter is Filisia Interfaces (Stand D446), with its Cosmo system (pictured left). This could be seen as a new take on the ‘switch’ used for computer access by learners with more challenging physical disabilities. This is a big 'button' that, when pressed, makes an event happen, depending on what the Cosmo is connected to.

However, Cosmo works via Bluetooth so it can be easily positioned anywhere students and teachers want, without the restrictions of a cable. And Bluetooth is more reliable than wireless. The Cosmo also comes with a suite of games for the iPad, to explore music, movement and memory.

The buttons are white but they have integral LEDs so they can be made to glow any colour, with a response that can be adjusted for sensitivity. So they can be set to ensure that even the gentlest of touches can trigger them, or, conversely, a more determined action is necessary. Cosmos could be useful in so many ways in an inclusive classroom: to encourage movement around the room; to explore music; for memory games; to motivate a child to reach out; for group work and turn-taking. The Cosmo is one of those seemingly simple ideas with a myriad potential uses, and it's customisable for each child. 

That's one of the reasons why they have been shortlisted in the SEN section of the BETT awards 2017. The drive to make activities more alluring and engaging for children is attracting attention. "Special education and training can often be very repetitive and boring for students," says Filisia CEO Georgios Papadakis. "They feel demotivated and isolated. This ultimately results in need for greater intervention by therapists and more time and costs associated with special education.”

Special needs expert Jamie MunroSwitching devices for iPads are still an issue for teachers and schools, and the special needs community has just lost an expert in the area who will be sorely missed. Jamie Munroe, an adviser with Inclusive Technology, died suddenly at his home on Christmas Day (see "One for the old white guys: 'we're not all bad'"), and his presentation on tablets and switching devices were real eye-openers.

Even-handed and dispassionate, the evidence he presented about tablets and their connectivity questioned the uncritical adoption of iPads for special needs environments requiring switching devices. The fact is that both Windows and Android tablets with USB slots can happily use the switching devices and rollerballs that schools have already invested in: iPads can't.

Unfortunately he wasn't the only sad loss of 2016. The 2Simple community was shocked by the sudden death of Jonny Zucker at the end of the year. He was the immensely creative author behind the Serial Mash serialised books that hooked thousands of children on "simple's Purple Mash online service (see "Serial Mash event sparked 259k new reading activities"). 

Jonny ZuckerJonny Zucker: 'Serial Mash' author2Simple has always demonstrated commitment to SEN and inclusion and Jonny Zucker was just the same. At an editorial meeting over at the 2Simple office in Islington I asked whether the Serial Mash books included alternative reading levels so that all the children in a class could enjoy their delights. Apparently this had been overlooked, but within days of raising this with Jonny he happily worked with me to create different levels to bring in all children. There was none of the resistance that is so often the case elsewhere — just an immediate understanding of the issue and an almost instant solution. He will be missed.

Beam Riders introduces neurofeedback

Another innovative approach to technology for special needs comes from Beam Riders, (Stand BFS23). This is a technology that apparently improves learning through neurofeedback. After a lesson the learner puts on a headband that tracks brainwave activity while the wearer uses an app on a mobile device. A cloud based service then helps to create a brain state that is optimum for retention of what has been learnt. An emerging area of interest.

Longer established in this field is MyCognition (Stand B459). This aims to enhance cognitive functioning through regularly playing an online game which adjusts according to a user’s responses. Areas covered included short term and long term memory, and executive functioning. Before they begin learners do a short assessment, which they repeat after around ten weeks of regular use. Some impressive improvements in learning behaviours and achievement in core subjects is claimed.

If you are looking for a more conventional approach to assessment then a visit to GL Assessments (Stand B149) might prove useful. Although they have no new resources on offer, they have pulled a number of their tried and tested products into one SEN Assessment Toolkit which has also made it on to the SEN shorlist for the BETT Awards 2017.

The idea is that this suite will cover all areas of concern — literacy, numeracy, behaviour and so on — and then provides a means for both pulling the results together, and to plan appropriate interventions.

Meanwhile B-Squared (Stand B245) are looking to update their offering in response to the Rochford Review. While this is still in its consultation phase the company has yet to finalise the latest version. However, a preview will be available that reflects the proposed changes to this widely used tracking tool.

Q-Files also makes it on to the BETT Awards 2017 shortlist

Q-files'Q-files': reliable content written for young learners - and up for an awardOf course, an understanding of a pupils’ learning needs is only part of the story; you also need to have good quality resources for teaching, along with appropriate content. New to the market this year is Q-Files (Stand E400). This comes from a print publisher, Orpheus Books who have chosen to put much of their content online in what is, essentially, a child-friendly encyclopaedia. A lot of well researched, reliable content written for young learners, unlike other classroom favourites such as Wikipedia. Very useful as a way to find information online that you know is both safe and reliable.

You can read more about it on this site (see "'Q-files', the free pupil-friendly encyclopaedia") and it has impressed enough people to make it on to the shortlist in the Free Digital Content/Open Educational Resources category of the BETT Awards 2017.

Another innovation from a print publisher is iHub from First News (Stand G379). The well-established, and well liked, weekly newspaper pitched at a level appropriate for school age readers is now supplemented by an online version that also includes debates, puzzles and comprehension activities. It has three different levels for varying abilities, and a teacher dashboard for allocating tasks, tracking and setting homework.

While not a new product, another resource for literacy worth taking a look at is the revamped Devtray now available as part of 2Simple’s Purplemash (Stand D370). This first launched in the 1980s and has gone through more than one upgrade, but essentially it remains true to the original concept of supporting literacy development through teacher-led, group, activities. Only now it has also benefitted from extra engaging and enriching facilities learned from gamification techniques. 

Designed for the interactive whiteboard, this is an approach with strong constructivist principles behind it. Pupils collaborate to decode a cloze text that might initially be almost entirely made up of blank spaces. They learn from each other as different strategies are used, and lightbulb moments pop up. It is an approach that might not fit in to all classrooms with the current focus on phonics and levelled groups, but can provide some exciting teaching and learning opportunities.

That’s not to say there is anything wrong with a focus on phonics, as can be found at Read with Fonics (Stand BFS3). Designed by Sophie Cooper, a primary teacher from Kent, this is an online resource that tracks progress and allows teachers to tailor work to their pupil’s needs. The intention is to provide resources, both web-based and printouts, to complement a synthetic phonics approach.

Crick's 'Clicker' apps suite spreads to Chromebooks

If you haven’t seen Clicker7 yet, it is well worth investigation over at Crick Software (Stand D140) . It is sufficiently different from its predecessor to warrant an upgrade, which is also why it is on the shortlist for the ICT Tools for Learning, Teaching and Assessment category of the BETT Awards 2017. The popular Clicker apps are also worth checking out, particularly as there are now Chrome versions of some of them for schools adopting Google-based Chromebook laptops.

In the field of numeracy there are a few things worth looking at. Just2Easy (Stand A100) has added J2Blast to its easy-to-use suite of programs — it has a focus on multiplication and division — while both Doodlemaths (Stand F79) and Maths with Parents (Stand BFS42) are focused on developing skills outside of school.

As always there is a impressive list of keynotes, seminars and workshops to complement the stands, some of them provided by world renowned experts such as Sir Ken Robinson, some by companies that are exhibiting to showcase their products, and some by seasoned practitioners. And there's one by me, “Inclusive approaches to beginning with programming”,in the Learn Live primary theatre at 3pm on Thursday January 26. Come along if you need a bit of a sit down.

John GallowayJohn Galloway is an expert in the use of technology to support teaching, learning and communication for children and young people with SEND. He is also a successful author. His latest book, Learning with Mobile and Handheld Technologies, co-authored with Merlin John and Maureen McTaggart, won the Book of the Year category in the Innovation and Technology Awards, 2016.
To get in touch with John email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  
Twitter: @JohnGalloway

More information

Filisia Interfaces (Stand D446)
Beam Riders, (Stand BFS23)
MyCognition (Stand B459)
GL Assessments (Stand B149)
B-Squared (Stand B245)
Q-Files (Stand E400)
First News (Stand G379)
2Simple (Stand D370)
Read with Fonics (Stand BFS3)
Crick Software (Stand D140)
Just2Easy (Stand A100)
Doodlemaths (Stand F79)
Maths with Parents (Stand BFS42)
“Inclusive approaches to beginning with programming”, in the Learn Live primary theatre at 3pm on Thursday January 26