SEND and Computing

Feb 22, 2018

Miles Berry

As computing is a national curriculum subject, pupils with SEND have the same entitlement to be taught the curriculum content as any other pupils: schools have an obligation to ensure that there are no barriers to pupils’ attainment, and that specialist equipment and different approaches are provided where these are needed. Operating system developers have done much to build accessibility in to their products in recent years and pupils should be taught how to make effective use of these features.

In computer science lessons, particular attention needs to be paid to the programming environments used by pupils. The popular Scratch block based language is at present inaccessible to visually impaired pupils or those unable to use a mouse, trackpad or touch screen; alternatives which work with screen-readers and keyboard input are available. Similarly, whilst block-based languages such as Scratch are generally more accessible than traditional text-based languages, even Scratch places significant demands on pupils’ reading abilities: simpler, icon-based, alternatives are available. On the other hand, Scratch does provide excellent support for pupils to program in languages other than English.

An inclusive approach to computing should ensure an appropriate balance between the foundation (computer science), application (information technology) and implication (digital literacy) elements of the curriculum. For some pupils with SEND, too great a focus on programming and other aspects of computer science at the expense of IT skills and online-safety may do little to prepare them for the practical needs of their subsequent study, employment and adult life. Particular attention should be paid to ensuring that pupils who are more vulnerable because of SEND have a secure understanding of how to keep themselves safe, and of their responsibilities, when using the internet.

The acceptance of the Rochford Review recommendation that the former P-scales be removed for assessment in computing below the level of the national curriculum has left a gap between assessment for those not engaged in subject-specific learning against aspects of cognition and learning and assessment in accordance with the national curriculum attainment targets based on the programmes of study. Schools need guidance in teaching and assessing the progress of those pupils not yet working at the level of the national curriculum, and whilst this is available for English and mathematics, the removal of the P-scales impedes this for computing and other foundation subjects.

The computing national curriculum provides an opportunity for pupils to think about user-centred design, including accessibility and inclusion, when developing their own programs and other digital content. In learning about effective design pupils should be taught that good design is inclusive. In practice, this can be as simple as providing both spoken and textual instructions in a game of their own design, or the addition of subtitles to a video they edit, but at a higher level might include the design, development and testing of products designed to support users with particular needs, impairments or disabilities.

A substantial body of work suggests that software engineering employs a disproportionately high number of adults with ASD. For pupils with ASD, the opportunity to learn to program whilst at school may provide greater confidence and sense of achievement, as well as providing a path on to further study and employment in this area. It is important that schools allow pupils, including those with ASD, who express an interest in or aptitude for programming to study GCSE and A Level computer science, even if they might fail to meet the school’s normal requirements for courses of this rigour.

Submitted at their lordships’ request as written evidence for the House of Lords AI Select Committee