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A Changing Role in Supporting Assistive Technology, UK

Hannah is a year 10 student at a secondary school in England. We hear about how she accesses education and the support she receives for technology. This includes a laptop with dictation software that she was recently assessed for. We also hear from Leigh Allen, the SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinators), working with Hannah.


The Star College is a specialist college based at Ullenwood, with residences in Gloucester, Cheltenham and Malvern. There are education centres in Mamhilad (Wales) and Hereford. Training programmes are run in East Sussex, Derbyshire, Lewisham, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and London.

Assistive Technology

There are full and part time, residential and day courses at the main site in Cheltenham. These are accessed along with therapy support from Speech Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists. Students are assessed for the technology they require as follows:

These assessments are carried out in parallel with therapy assessments and observations. An MIS is used to share the information between professionals.

Changes in UK education

In the UK there are more students with disabilities being educated in mainstream education. For National Star this has meant two main changes. The first is a change in the student cohort attending – with varying and often complex needs. Secondly it has meant developing an outreach service to support mainstream educational providers.

Students are supported in mainstream education to access technology but often work with other organisations to seek advice, assessments and training. National Star College deliver an outreach service county-wide and beyond; this complements help from the  ATS, DSA, BATA, JISC, EOA, Educational Psychologists and others. Technology can improve performance across the board – whether it be through screen readers for challenging texts or through word processing for those with unclear handwriting.

The education and learning technology sector contributes more than £1 billion to the U.K. economy each year and on the 6th of March 2017 the Rt. Hon John Bercow MP launched the Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology. The challenge remains to ensure that technology finds its’ way into classrooms – recent surveys show improvements but a long way to go in ensuring students use Assistive Technology in the classroom and for exams.

Themes for Improvement

Early intervention.
Young students already have access to smart devices and with alterations these can break down barriers to accessing education. This means assessment, but also changes to the way education is delivered – providing digital resources where possible.

Standardisation of support network.
Often schools have stories of unsuitable equipment they’ve purchased, or have not had the time to navigate all that is on offer. For this reason the organisations that work with schools must collaborate and be supported in their work.

Impact of Frontline Staff.

In mainstream education the SENCo’s (Special Educational Needs Coordinators) teaching staff, exam officers and other support staff have a huge role. It is vital they all have an understanding of the tools that can be used with their students – from this they can use the knowledge from the support networks with their own.

Written by

Neil Beck
Assistive Technology Assessor
National Star