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Freedom of expression and opinion is a fundamental human right copy: Pendle View Primary School (Part 2)

Photograph of Fran Clayton, a white woman with shoulder length blonde hair, wearing a blue tshirt and 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:

Fran Clayton is the Headteacher at Pendle View Primary School.

We asked Fran to give her reflections and expertise on current access gaps and challenges of Assistive Technology within the primary education sector.

Q & A with Fran Clayton:

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

As the Headteacher of a primary special school I am privileged to be able to see children grow and develop from the age of 5 to 11. On a daily basis I strive to ensure that every pupil has access to the highest level of quality support and that all of their needs are met. To work with staff who have the same passion and vision for the pupils makes a difference and enables me to enjoy my role.

Being able to ensure that our communication team is at the centre of our school vision and ethos means that we constantly work towards every pupil having a voice and a right to communicate.

This makes me very proud and on a daily basis I am reminded about why I enjoy my job so much.

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

Within in school we have facilitated access to AT to support pupil’s communication through our Pupil Premium funding. We have purchased a range of equipment for use in school. This equipment is trailed within our communication base and then transferred for use within the classroom. As this equipment is funded from the school budget we cannot send it home for use outside school which does restrict the children.

We have made AT accessible within our school but this is quite a unique situation with other local authority schools not being able to provide this range of equipment.

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

Pupils of school age are required to go through long winded assessment processes in order to be even considered for AT. Rarely do pupils get access to AT 100% from the NHS. If this was the case equipment would remain with them into adulthood. If pupils do get funding it is often jointly funded by health and education which means that when they leave the education sector they may no longer have access to AT as health or social care will not pick up the funding.

There is a lack of multi-agency working to enable access to AT.

Funding is an issue. Knowledge within schools and the wider support network for young children also affects access.

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

Our pupils have learning disabilities and are often totally reliant on parents and other significant adults. For many children parents / carers speak for them as they are not given the right tools to communicate whether this be in the form of symbolic support or higher tech devices. By providing children with learning disabilities had access to the right communication support from a young age this then would empower them to have freedom of expression and be able to enjoy and interact with their environment.

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

  • Training and support for families / education sector / children’s social care etc to understand how AT works and how empowering this can be.
  • Funding to ensure AT is in place in all settings to enable children to realise their rights.
  • Government Strategy / policy covering Education, Health and Social Care.

That every child has access to the AT they need, which means that those in a child's life - families, support workers, teachers, personal assistants and those in social care, understand how AT works, can identify what the child needs from a device and knows, without doubt, how impactful, empowering and crucial both they, and the devices, are to a child's development and happiness.

We also need more money, particularly when children transition through education and other life stages - so that we ensure that AT reaches every child where they are. The current access pathways are not enough and are leaving children behind. It's not money wasted - enabled and empowered children, will become enabled and empowered adults.

6. What is the final reflection you’d like to leave with people.

Our children are very precious people who deserve the right to communicate and have their voices heard. Enabling children with very complex needs to be able to control music and their environment when they are dependent on adults for all other aspects of their life e.g. personal care / feeding / moving and handling etc is one of the most amazing parts of my job. Our children have the right to be a part of the world we live in and should be able to access as much as possible as independently as they can. We as adults need to support them to be empowered to be as independent as possible and to have an impact on their world.

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