For a number of students, each day can be a battle as they are forced to navigate their studies while also dealing with underlying mental health issues, special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), difficulties with communication, or even problems at home. Whether outwardly visible or not, these children and young people often require additional support to continue to thrive alongside their peers, but are by no means any less capable. As the utilisation of technology in enhancing the day-to-day running of the classroom becomes increasingly recognised, so too must its role in helping provide more vulnerable students with the extra assistance they need.
As it currently stands, in some instances these needs are going unaddressed, and even worse, unnoticed for some time. This means that it’s very often teachers who are placed on the frontline for providing students with health, welfare and SEND support. Given that they’re not necessarily qualified specialists, they’re unlikely to be equipped to diagnose these sensitive cases, let alone be expected to tackle them in a timely and sensitive manner while also fulfilling their role as a classroom teacher. This is becoming particularly true as the problem worsens and schools struggle to keep up.
Mental health pandemic
Government statistics from 2019 revealed that the proportion of SEND students rose for a third consecutive year. Meanwhile, reports show time and time again that, across the UK, mental health issues in children are on the rise. According to the leading mental health charity Young Minds, an estimated three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health problem.
Thankfully, however, the problem is not falling on deaf ears. According to a recent poll by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), those at the top are starting to wake up to the issues at hand. This is certainly encouraging in terms of working to take the strain off of teaching staff, and ensuring appropriate support is in place for everyone. That being said, however, a number of the headteachers who were involved in the study still felt that there was a lack of capacity in specialist services for those with more serious problems.
Access and efficiency
Where some schools might be able to respond to the increasing need and lack of capacity in specialist services by commissioning their own on-site support, for others, it can be more difficult, and issues with access and efficiency often become a point of contention. This is where technology can play a key role, not only in getting students with known special education or health needs the support they require, but also in helping to bring forward new cases of those who may be vulnerable.
Hurdles – including geographical challenges, budget constraints and lengthy waiting lists – can all impact many young people’s ability to access the support they need, and this comes into play both on an individual level and within the physical school environment. For that reason, technology that enables trained professionals to connect with students remotely can prove invaluable.
By utilising secure consultation platforms, teachers can quickly and easily refer students of concern to ensure that, where necessary, they can receive the appropriate help. It can also provide a huge amount of relief for parents who may struggle to take the time off work needed to travel with their child to appointments with relevant practitioners, or who are unable to access support locally. There are also a number of assistive technology solutions available in the form of software, apps and games that can help to increase opportunities for access, communication, and overall independence for students in need of additional support.
While the implementation of the actual technology can happen almost overnight, the cultural and bureaucratic shift needed to take place within individual school environments to ensure the best possible success will likely take a little longer. With schools up and down the UK being forced to close down for the foreseeable future amid the current pandemic, there has never been a more important time to employ remote support in order to ensure that no student runs the risk of slipping through the cracks.