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Freedom of expression and opinion is a fundamental human right: Pendle View Primary School (Part 1)

A coloured photograph of Jennette. Jennette is a white woman, who is stood against a plain background smiling towards the camera

All children must be given the tools to allow them freedom of expression, the opportunity to be part of the community and workforce, and to achieve their potential - it is after all, a human right.

About the Author:

Jennette Greenwood is a Higher Level Teaching Assistant and Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Coordinator at Pendle View Primary School.

Over the last 28 years, I have developed an interest in adapting and producing resources to meet the needs of children to enable them access the world around them and communicate. When I first started working in SEND* few schools Assistive Technology (AT). No internet, a couple of big Macks and switch toys.

My first role in a SEND school I worked with a pupil who was visually impaired and had global learning difficulties. I could see the benefits of adapting and making resources that benefited this pupil. Over the years as AT has grown I have become more interested in how AT can benefit so many children. I have been involved in many assessments involving AT and seen how funding has changed the lives of many children I have worked with over the years.

I have always been passionate about giving children a voice and I have always been willing to share an idea for the benefit of the children. Being creative I feel is a key role to play always adapting and changing, just looking for that little reaction such as a small change in facial expression can be so rewarding. I was fortunate to be offered the role of HLTA/AAC Coordinator at Pendle View Primary School this being a completely new role in the school. Robins has been established for around 8 years. When Robins first opened, we didn’t have many resources and over the years we have built our bank of resources up. We have AT that allows every child in school to access their environment and communicate using high and low-tech communication systems, a large bank of symbols, communication boards, and communication books. We don’t always get it right but we try our very best for the children. And of cause, we never stop learning from our students.

*SEND: Special Educational Needs and Disability

Q & A with Jennette Greenwood:

1) What do you enjoy most about your role and why?

I enjoy exploring ways to help children access their outside world and give them a voice that is unique to them. I love being creative in finding ways that makes their school work fun - learning through play without adding pressure to them in a somewhat confusing world

2) Do the children you work with have access to the AT they need?

Yes, all the children I work with have access to AT in a way that is right for them. We are very lucky at Pendle View to have the funding to purchase a wide range of AT for the children in our school. This means that every child has the means to communicate or access environmental controls adapted to their needs. If we don’t have a suitable piece of equipment we will purchase it for them.

3) In your experience, what are the core barriers to children accessing AT in the UK?

While we are able to provide AT to the children in our school, once the children go home or move to another school AT does not always follow them.

This is due to the strict criteria that children need to meet in order for them to be eligible for onwards funding. For these children, it is suggested that other support or funding streams may be more suitable, but there is no clear Government guidance on where support or funding may come from.

I work with many children who are unable to show that they meet the criteria for funding but can show responses using environmental controls using switches or eye gaze. They can activate a **BIGmack or button attached to a BIGmack on a mounting system.

**A BIGmack is a device which a single message, sound or music can be recorded on. It is activated by pressing the button on the top. For children who may struggle with movement or low muscle tone a switch can be attached through the jack for specialty switch operation or activating a switch toy.

4) What is the most crucial factor in empowering children to realise their human rights to freedom of expression, and enjoyment of their environment?

For the majority of children with disabilities, life can be tough, with barriers at every turn. So why then do we need to put more barriers in their way?

Children have a right to communicate and to access their environment. For a child with a physical impairment, in all likelihood, they will be given the equipment that helps with mobility.

My question to those in power is, should we not then be enabling all children to realise their rights to communicate and access their environment with the tools that are right for them no matter what their disability is? I believe we must.

5) If you could change something to enable children to realise their rights, what would it be?

Allowing funding to be available for all children no matter their disability. How do we truly know what children understand if we don’t give them to tools to communicate and take the time to hear them.

7) What is the final reflection you’d like to leave people with?

Over the last 28 years, I have been working in SEND, and I have seen many changes in AT which have benefited lots of children. AT is becoming more affordable and much more accessible.

At Pendle View Primary we have a specialist provision to meet the needs of children within our school. One of these areas is Robins which meets the needs of pupils with Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) needs. Working in Robins with children daily allows you to see the benefits of AT, see the ways that children grow and develop their communication, and the power of children when they are able to access the world around them.

It would be amazing if all SEND schools across the country were able to have a dedicated department where children could work one to one or in small groups to help develop their communication needs. The skills these children develop are then shared with the class team who can then continue this work in a classroom environment. Identifying staff who have a passion and understanding of developing communication at all levels within a school environment is their sole role as the communication team.

So much pressure is put on schools to meet targets within everyday school life but surely the most important consideration is giving children a voice. All children must be given the tools to allow them freedom of expression, the opportunity to be part of the community and workforce, and to achieve their potential. It is after all, a human right.

Someone once told me that communication is about finding the easiest route for someone to communicate and not about putting barriers in their way!! That comment has always stayed with me when I am working with children and it’s one that I hope others can take with them too.

If you would like to get in touch with Jennette you can contact her at Pendle View school.