By Lord Rix - 15th July 2010
Lord Rix writes for ePolitix.com ahead of his oral question on educational opportunities for students with special educational needs and disabilities.
Although Becta (the British Education Communications Technology Agency) as a quango could have done better in delivering greater use of IT and assistive technologies (AT) for children with special educational needs or disabilities, organisations such as Mencap, RMB, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT)and the Rix Centre(researching new media technology to help the learning disability community) at the University of East London - plus many others - are extremely concerned that,as yet, the coalition government have not announced which body or mechanisms will be put in place to ensure this agenda is pursued further in the education system
My question in the Lords this Thursday is intended to enable the government to make a positive response and to explain exactly how it intends to fill this unfortunate gap in a vitally important educational source.
Just how important is made clear by Jane Mackenzie of the RCSLT in the following:
-Over 80 per cent of people with a learning disability have a severe communication disability. They form the largest group of communication-impaired individuals in the general population and these figures are set to rise over time.
-Over 90 per cent of individuals with severe learning disabilities will never learn to speak. This makes it difficult for them to use or understand speech or express themselves, make choices or learn to read or write.
-Specialist support is needed to enable people with a learning disability to develop augmentative communication skills, therefore enabling them to access education and to use modem technology.
Andy Minnion (Director of the Rix Centre) and Jonty Rix (OU senior lecturer, Inclusion, Curriculum & Learning) added the following:
"It seems the Home Access scheme - originally administered by Becta - is continuing, offering internet access and conventional PCs to the children from underprivileged families and those with a disability. However, those needing assistive technology (AT) like touchscreens, switches etc. have been told to wait, although it appears the funding is secure until March 2011. We are not aware that the government has confirmed this, but the suppliers concerned report 'business as usual' - notwithstanding that much of the budgets savings was supposed to come from this AT scheme."
Finally, a last word from Jonathan Bartlett (the father who confronted David Cameron during the election campaign about mainstream schools): "The announcement that Becta is to be scrapped as part of the government's efficiency savings is a huge blow to disabled children in mainstream schools."