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Time to Reflect

The start of the new academic year, gives me chance to reflect on the year ahead. This is the second year in a row that I have started a new position, Last year, I was fortunate to be offered a middle leadership role as Head of Year 11. I really enjoyed taking on the challenge of leading a year team to ensure that we provided a safe and enjoyable environment for our year 11 to achieve. I work in a generic special school and I was pleased with how successful the whole team were in ensuring our students applied themselves to their learning and developed as young people throughout the year. There were certainly challenges along the way, but I look back with very fond memories of the year,

This year, our school has undergone a major reorganisation – in terms of how our students cohorts are arranged. Rather than being year based, we have moved to a more needs based system with different hubs for moderate learning difficulties (MLD), severe learning difficulties (SLD), Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD) and the 6th Form. The thinking behind this, is that we will be better placed to ensure that the resources for specific students can be utilised more and that by teaching in need groups – progress can be shown more clearly. Obviously this smacks inclusion in the face a little, but we have a Complex needs coordinator who role is to ensure that where appropriate students have the opportunity for inclusion across different areas of the school. Now my role has changed too – I am now Curriculum Leader for the 6th Form responsible for ensuring that we have a dynamic and appropriate curriculum for the many different types of learners that we have in the 6th Form. I think there are 7 different curriculum’s running alongside each other, which is great for providing a tailor made curriculum for the majority of our students, I have written briefly about creating a 6th curriculum before.  I am very much looking forward to this role and the challenges it creates in the currant climate of changes to OFSTED inspections.

Contrary to some people’s beliefs, special schools are still inspected using the same OFSTED criteria than all school s in the UK. We have the benefit of using the SEN progression guidance to help us justify the slower rates of progress for students with SLD and PMLD, however MLD are expected to make the same levels of progress and this gets mixed into the overall picture when OFSTED make their judgement. We had the pleasure of Her Majesty;s inspectors come visit earlier this year. There are many things to be celebrated about school (emotional well being, exceptional performance in the Arts, outstanding vocational provision) unfortunately under the new criteria we were classed as requires Improvement as the progress in Maths and English was not rapid and sustained enough.

This has led to a change in focus as our school for the new academic year, we are now putting in place more focus on literacy and numeracy across the whole school. I for one am quite excited by the challenge of this and to a certain extent agree that we should have the high expectations of our students to achieve in literacy and numeracy regardless of ability. However, I think that OFSTED need to recognise the appropriateness of what we mean by literacy and numeracy, For one student this might be developing their writing skills however for as more severe student this might be improving their communication skills so that they can effectively communicate their needs and wants. For our SLD students in the 6th Form it is about developing their numeracy and literacy skills to enable them to become more independent in their lives for when they leave school.

No matter what we think about OFSTED and whether we agree with the hoop jumping or not, being in the position our school is in we have no choice and have to look at the priorities to ensure that the next time they come to visit we have done everything we can to show an upward trend in progress in the core subjects, Not being a English or Maths specialist I am slightly nervous, but looking forward to developing my knowledge of teaching these subjects and looking at new and exciting ways to be able to deliver these across the life skills curriculum that I deliver in the sixth form.

Looking around a colleagues today, there was a real sense of togetherness that we as a staff team want to ensure the best for our students and I am quietly confident that we will give the students the best opportunity to shine in these subjects, not just for OFSTED but because it is the right thing to do.

Open Source Head Tracking -accessibility for all learners

For those users who are unable to use traditional methods to access technology, there are many solutions out there for them. Though these can prove expensive and not all schools can afford to get this. Tobii Eyegaze is a one example of a fantastic piece of kit that allows students with impaired motor skills to access a range of programs and technology. In this post, I want to share some of the free open-source solutions  that allow users to access technology in a similar way, that I have discovered.

Camera Mouse – This is some software that allows you to control the mouse on the screen using just the movement of your head. It uses a webcam to detect a persons head and you can choose which part of your face the camera tracks. The software was developed by Boston College to help people with disabilities use their computer. It is very simple to use and also allows you to do most functions of a normal mouse.

Camera Mouse

ITU Gaze Tracker – Another piece of software available is the Gaze Tracking Library. This goes further and allow the user to use eye or gaze tracking. This piece of software seems to work best with head mounted cameras and needs a more in depth calibration, though once again this software is free to download.

Heads Up Software – This software was developed as part of a project looking into open source head tracking cameras and developed by Simon Evans (@cognable). The software contains 4 activities that uses cursor movement to interact with. Using these with software like Camera Mouse, you have some really simple but effective activities that those users with impaired motor skills are able to access and complete. Have included a video of me playing the bubble test using the camera mouse to show you how accurate it is.

These could also be used as a cost effective way of accessing students for more advanced eye tracking software without having to pay out for expensive equipment. It is certainly something that I am going to try and use more with some of our students who struggle to access computer through traditional means.

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