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Pupil Equity Fund, Assistive Technology and Impact on Attainment

by Paul Nisbet

on Wed Mar 22, 2017

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The Pupil Equity Fund is worth £120 million which will be directly allocated to schools to help reduce the poverty attainment gap. In a previous blog I suggested that it could be appropriate to use PEF to invest in Assistive Technology. So is there evidence that Assistive Technology does impact positively on attainment?

CALL Scotland - purveyors of snake oil since 1983?
Just not always the way you expect… (it's a switch-operated water pistol)

Maureen McKenna, Executive Director of Education in Glasgow City Council has warned against: "snake oil salesmen" offering to "fix your literacy problems, just give me a huge wad of money” and head teachers will clearly wish to invest in interventions that do actually raise attainment and are value for money.

Education Scotland's Interventions for Equity Framework has advice on selecting the most impactful interventions and approaches while the Interventions for Equity page has some examples that have been used in schools across Scotland. There are a few examples of digital technology but nothing specifically about Assistive Technology and so in this blog I offer evidence from research and a case study. Over the next few weeks we will attempt to research and post more, to help schools make appropriate decisions for PEF.

Firstly, though, is it appropriate to use PEF to fund interventions for learners with additional support needs? I think yes -

here's why:

  • The fund is intended to close the attainment gap; if a learner has lower attainment then s/he by definition requires additional support.
  • The PEF National Operational Guidance states that "Funding must provide targeted support for children and young people affected by poverty to achieve their full potential. Although the Pupil Equity Funding is allocated on the basis of free school meal eligibility, Headteachers can use their professional judgement to bring additional children in to the targeted interventions." So learners with ASN who are not registered for free school meals can be targeted by PEF interventions.
  • The Guidance document states that "The Pupil Equity Funding can be used to procure digital technologies, including hardware and software, when its allocation and use is particularly focused on supporting children and young people affected by poverty to achieve their full potential." Note the use of the word 'particularly', not 'exclusively', i.e. as noted above, other learners who benefit from digital technologies to raise attainment can be included.
  • However the Guidance warns that "We know that simply providing more technology does not result in improved outcomes for learners. Therefore, any deployment of technology in an educational setting should be undertaken in line with the objectives of the national Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy."

Ontario's Essential for Some, Good for All Initiative

I have mentioned this in previous blogs but it's helpful to explore the results reported in the Leading for All Report in a little more detail. The project was led by Professor Andy Hargreaves and Henry Braun, and Professor Andy Hargreaves is now on the International Council of Education Advisers advising the Scottish Government on the National Improvement Framework.

Assistive Technology was a key component for this work, and the Executive Summary notes that: 

The benefits of using and developing assistive technologies in ESGA have been clear and considerable: They can increase participation, enhance inclusion, develop positive identity and self-confidence and raise achievement in the community of students with special educational needs. (p. 20).

The report offers useful guidance on implementation, such as: 

Assistive technologies have been used most successfully when they are placed in the service of the primary learning goals of the school system. Their greatest impact has been when they have been integrated into classroom teachers’ practice with all students rather than just providing a form of separate (and sometimes stigmatized) source of support for individual students with identified special needs.

So one of the lessons here is that inclusive digital technologies have greatest impact when they are implemented for all learners across the whole school. Which brings us to....

Denny High School Text Reader Project

The Using Technology in Literacy case study from Denny High School is a good example of this whole-school approach to assistive technology. A free computer text reader (Ivona MiniReader) and the Scottish computer voices were installed on all the computers in the school. The aim was to raise attainment in literacy, and to develop learners' independent skills:

All pupils were encouraged to make use of it, to proofread their work and to take responsibility for the quality and accuracy of extended pieces of written work completed using ICT. Staff also recognised the benefits of teaching pupils to use this software, rather than relying on the use of a human reader and/or scribe for class work and assessments, and the benefits it would bring for pupils moving on to further and higher education and to the workplace.

The report concludes that:

There has been a very positive response to the use of various ICT support tools at Denny High School from the learners, teachers and senior staff, particularly the use of iVona MiniReader. The pupils have found it easy to use and it has helped them become more independent in their learning. It is also possible to use it at home so their whole learning experience has improved. The teachers have seen an improvement in the learner’s level of ability in literacy, and were also very positive about how easy to use the software was for the learners.

What Works? Research into Practice

Ontario continues to provide resources to their schools on evidence-based practice, and some of the research summaries report on the impact of assistive technologies.

Denny's experience with computer text readers is supported by Dr. Michelann Parr in The Voice of Text-to-Speech Technology One Possible Solution for Struggling Readers? whose research tells us that:

  • Children who fall behind as readers read less; this, in turn, can increase the skills gap between struggling readers and their peers.
  • Self-efficacy – belief in oneself as a reader – is half the battle in helping students learn to read.
  • Choice – in what to read, when to read and how to read – acts as a powerful motivator for all students and especially for those who struggle with reading.
  • Text-to-speech technology facilitates student choice, differentiation and self-advocacy.

More broadly, the paper on Assistive Technology Tools concludes that:

There is compelling long-term evidence that student achievement can be improved through the appropriate use of technology. If efforts are made to implement assistive technologies effectively for student use, they can enhance:

  • literacy acquisition
  • flexible and differentiated learning experiences
  • student engagement and independence.

Accessible Learning Resources

Computer text readers have little impact unless you have digital textbooks and learning resources to read. Schools might therefore consider using PEF to design and implement a strategy to create an accessible digital learning infrastructure.  In practice, this involves:

  • provision of digital devices;
  • provision of accessibility tools such as text reader and the Scottish voices;
  • a strategy for ensuring that all printed learning resources are available in accessible digital formats;
  • a programme of staff and learner development.

As well as raising attainment and promoting independence (i.e. learners use technology to access resources rather than relying on human readers), such a strategy fulfils obligations under the Equality Act to provide accessible learning resources.  

Tags: attainment, pupil equity fund

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