Tech to support SEND students in education

Leeds City College’s Joseph Priestley Centre supports over 440 students, and tutor David Gemlo-Duston credits the use of tech with aiding this support

With an increasing use of technology and greater emphasis placed on delivering personalised and flexible learning, it’s important for educational institutions to ensure they have the correct tools to meet current and future student needs. There are plenty of options available on the market, but keeping your students at the heart of what you do can help in choosing the correct solutions for your organisation. Leeds City College’s Joseph Priestley Centre in Beeston supports over 440 students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities aged between 16-24 years, helping them to gain the knowledge and skills they need to live, learn and work independently. As a Google reference college, students and teachers gain access to new and innovative solutions to enhance learning.

Technology as an enabler

High Needs Best Practice Lead, David Gemlo-Duston, from the college’s Joseph Priestley Centre uses technology to help young people become more self-sufficient, commenting: “The main thing we do is empower our students with independence.” Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) students often use assistive technology to overcome learning barriers. Advances in technology mean that classroom IT is also moving forward. For SEND students at the college, the increasing popularity in cloud-based technology, mobile apps and portable devices enables greater flexibility in how they learn. David and his team regularly use smartboards in classrooms and are excited about new possibilities that the digital age could open up. Interactive and collaborative classroom technology has the potential to enhance student engagement, says David: “It can be one of those things that’s a game changer when it’s simplistic, fun and easy to use. When it comes to learning, it makes the scope for face to face interaction so much bigger.”

Transforming how ideas are shared

Touch screens and styluses can help to eliminate some of the day-to-day learning challenges when doing tasks that require a lot of writing. For students and tutors at the Joseph Priestley Centre, it’s ‘the way forward and great to have in classrooms, especially for dexterity problems. Students don’t have to try any harder, these options just make it easy.’

Students use Google’s Jamboard in many of their lessons

Features such as handwriting and shape recognition transform the user’s text into a font and change a drawing into a specific shape. Students are able to focus on getting their message across with less emphasis placed on their writing skills. New developments such as Google’s Jamboard give users the ability to draw and sketch or add images and content directly from the web, bringing ideas to life in moments. These new ways of gathering information and sharing ideas allow students to interact and learn in a way that suits them.

Flexible access to learning

As the use of cloud-based solutions is becoming the norm, automatic save is another function with the ability to reduce the risk of misplaced work, making learning mobile and allowing learners to continue working from anywhere. At the Joseph Priestley centre, real-time collaboration and the use of digital displays mean that students can work together from anywhere and with ease. This has the potential to reduce the risk of missing valuable learning and tailoring education to fit around students and their Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP). Remote access solutions give students the option to participate in lessons from anywhere, and having this type of equipment when working with students with high needs means that if they can’t attend college, they can still join in and be part of the class. 

For tutor David, encouraging students to be polite, independent and work together is key. Another important element for David is flipped classrooms. During these, students take on the role of a teacher and lessons are 85% student-led. This pushes students to do things for themselves and to gain a better understanding of what independence is. “Portable devices make flip classrooms more of a reality for students with special needs,” says David. Durability and easy set-up can save time so that lessons can start straight away.

Outstanding teaching at the core

After receiving an ‘outstanding’ grade from the latest Ofsted inspection for the provision for learners with high needs, David and the rest of the team are highly enthusiastic and optimistic about the future. He hopes new advances in technology will continue to support education so that students can take control of their learning.