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Attainment, ASN, Technology and the Pupil Equity Fund

by Paul Nisbet

on Mon Feb 20, 2017

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Scottish Government recently announced the new Pupil Equity Funding scheme which will provide £120 million direct to 2,300 schools across Scotland. The funding is based on the number of learners who are eligible and registered for free school meals and will be around £1200 per pupil. Should schools consider investing in Assistive Technology?

The proposal

  • Learners with Additional Support Needs have lower achievement than learners who do not have ASN.
  • Use of Assistive Technology can raise "raise achievement in the community of students with special educational needs" [1].
  • Access to and use of assistive technology is variable across Scotland.
  • Schools should use Pupil Equity Funding to invest in Assistive Technology, within a whole school digital inclusion strategy to enhance, extend and engage learning among all students including those with ASN .

[1] Hargreaves, A. & Braun, H. (2012). Leading for all page 53.

The detail

Attainment

The Scottish Government's recent publication of Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels for 2016 contains some disturbing data regarding progress of learners with additional support needs. For example, at P7, less than half the learners who have ASN achieve the expected level for reading, compared to 82% of learners who do not have ASN. The figures for writing, listening and talking and numeracy are similarly concerning.

I focus on Primary 7 because it's a crucial year for learners - a young person who transitions to secondary school with poor literacy and numeracy is at a disadvantage form the very start. If technology can help a learner access the curriculum, they really need to have acquired the skills to use the technology in P7 and before they start secondary school.

ASN status

Reading

Writing

Listening & Talking

Numeracy

Additional support needs

45%

37%

55%

43%

No additional support needs

82%

75%

86%

77%

Unknown1

57%

50%

61%

53%

All pupils

72%

65%

77%

68%

Assistive Technology

In a previous blog, I noted research carried out by Professor Andy Hargreaves, a member of the International Council of Education Advisers that is advising the Scottish Government on the National Improvement Framework. He writes that:

Assistive technologies, the results of this study show, can increase participation, enhance inclusion, develop positive identity and self-confidence and raise achievement in the community of students with special educational needs.

So for example:

  • If you have difficulty reading, you might use a computer reader.
  • If you find it hard to hold a pencil or write , you can type on a device and improve the legibility of what you write.
  • Those of us who have difficulty with spelling can use spellcheckers to improve our accuracy.
  • If you have difficulty with keyboarding or computer access, you can use alternatives (I use speech recognition software and a mouse with my left hand, because I get pain in my right arm when I type and use a mouse.)

Access to technology

However, we know that access to Assistive Technology varies across Scotland:

  • Only half of Scottish schools use Digital Question Papers in SQA examinations.
  • In a 2015 survey, practitioners reported that only one third of school computers have text-to-speech software installed (despite Scottish Government guidance that all computers should have a text reader and the free Scottish voices).

Lack of technology resources is one reason for this variability: the final report of the Round Table meetings commissioned by Scottish Government following the introduction of National Literacy Units reported that

it was apparent that there is significant variability in access to technology between schools in the same area and between schools in different parts of Scotland.

(EXECUTIVE SUMMARY DISCUSSION OUTCOMES: ROUND TABLE EVENT RELATING TO SUPPORT FOR DISABLED LEARNERS IN NATIONAL LITERACY UNITS August 2014, Ashbrook Research & Consultancy Ltd).

 

Pupil Equity Fund

Which brings us to the Pupil Equity Fund.

If there is an achievement gap between learners with and without ASN; and assistive technology can help bridge this gap; can we then use Pupil Equity Funding to invest in accessible digital technology to support learning?

The Pupil Equity Fund is not aimed at learners with Additional Support Needs (why not? there is clearly a gap in attainment related to ASN as well as to poverty?), but many learners with ASN are also eligible for free school meals and therefore interventions funded by PEP to raise attainment should impact on learners with ASN.

I am not suggesting that schools use their PEP funding to buy every child an iPad (or indeed, a Chromebook or a Windows laptop), but rather that investment in assistive technology should be one of the interventions that are considered by schools when planning for the next academic session.

For example, schools might develop an inclusive digital leaning plan that considers access and use of technology in teaching and learning by staff, students and parents; and/or a strategy to introduce digital curriculum resources to assist in effective Universal Design for Learning; and/or a programme of support and professional learning opportunities for staff; and/or participation in the Digital Schools Award Scotland.

The Pupil Equity Fund offers (some) schools a rare opportunity to address the variations in digital teaching and learning and uneven access to assistive technology. Let's not waste it.

Tags: attainment, pupil equity fund

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