How we fired up our disabled children’s home learning with the specialist kit they need

It looks like many more children with SEND have been able to go back to school this month, latest government figures show 15% of children with Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) are still at home. Many of these will be children who are clinically extremely vulnerable. We hope that schools are not forgetting these children.

During limited school openings, one of the biggest issues for families of children with is the availability of specialist equipment. Some schools sent equipment home to their SEND learners, but many others were left unable to do any learning without it.

Nicki Morley, from Chinley in Derbyshire, is parent to a daughter with the rare disease Rett syndrome. During the first lockdown, Nicki and her fellow parents at Peak Special School ran a successful £5000 fundraising campaign to create 20 'Interactive Home Learning Boxes' for children to be able to access specialist equipment. Their school head teacher, John McPherson, worked non-stop, including holidays, creating supportive networks for parent carers and making sure the funds raised were used as well as possible so children could maintain the same level of care and support at home as they get at school.

Nicki is here to tell us about what they achieved and how they did it.

Special Equipment Supporting Special Needs Home Learning by Nicki Morley

I’m a seasoned parent carer, with a good balance of passionate curiosity, informed cynicism and an unwavering desire to create respect and equality in the lives of children and adults with special needs.

But, first and foremost I am mum and step-mum to five active girls, which includes being parent carer to my eldest daughter, Isabella, who is 18 years old. Isabella has Rett Syndrome, which means she is non-verbal, struggles with mobility and needs round the clock care, but her social skills are off the scale and can work a room with the best!

Like most parent carers, I’ve struggled and battled with coming to terms with the abilities and disabilities of my daughter, and with all the welcome and unwelcome professionals that descend upon our lives. But, as all parent carers know, we have to make the most of any offers of help and support! 

Isabella has recently moved into adult care and will soon be leaving the safety of education, but for her final four years in education, she’s been lucky enough to be able to attend Peak Special School in Derbyshire. I took on the PTA Chair role of this amazing school, and feel so privileged to be surrounded with staff and parents that feel passionately about getting the best for our children.

We got to work raising money

The lockdown may have tried to stop us, but our kids needed us, so we got to work doing a little fundraising… Back at the beginning of 2020, the children of Peak Special School in Chinley, Derbyshire, released their first song on YouTube. Using their communication devices, the children recorded Pink’s ‘What About Us’, bringing a proud tear to the eye no matter how many times you watch it! 

The kids wanted to raise money for more iPads to be used in school to help with communication for all. Unfortunately, lockdown #1 stopped that fundraising campaign after raising £3500 over a few weeks, which bought 14 reconditioned iPads. 

Success? Kind of... 

It seemed so unfair that the kids had poured their hearts into the song and it had all been cut short, so Peak School PTA decided to rally the troops and get the children, the staff and the community to come together with a different approach to fundraising, so we launched ‘Peak School Education 2020’ Campaign. 

Over seven weeks, Peak School raised £5000 via social media and created a library of 20 ‘Interactive Home Learning Boxes’ full of specialist equipment for use with a range of additional needs. The boxes have been an invaluable resource for school and our families, as the first lockdown highlighted the need for a more specialised approach to home support. 

Digital learning isn't enough

While the digital solution from the Government has gained momentum, and continued to be a key for learning now in lockdown #3, it’s simply not enough. Our children deserve national recognition and support. The specialist equipment is absolutely essential for continued learning during lockdown, holidays and to cover children at home through illness or other medical issues.

We have Government support available and we need to push for this essential equipment, and not settle for the digital support that mainly benefits children in mainstream schools. Emma Hardy MP, the new co-vice chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group for SEND, and is highlighting the need for specialised equipment to support home learning for children with special needs, the very thing we at Peak School are providing for our children. Emma has referred to children with special needs as ‘the forgotten ones’, although she sees the value in the digital support the Government are promoting, she feels the specialised equipment, alongside the digital handouts, is absolutely necessary.

What do the boxes include?

Peak School Interactive Home Learning Boxes have developed over the months since the first lockdown, and the staff at Peak School have been able to prepare more personalised boxes to help specific needs for each child. The boxes are designed to meet developmental needs such as;

  • Develop ability to express themselves using speech and augmented systems. 
  • Develop ability to express needs and wishes through use of a switch. 
  • Develop gross and fine motor skills. 
  • Ability to choose a sensory activity.
  • Develop fixation, tracking, eye-contact and hand eye coordination
  • Develop fine motor skills, to learn how to manipulate small items and use other tools effectively.
  • Develop ability to process sensory information and tolerate a range of sensory input.
  • Learn skills to be better able to control and direct fine motor movements so that they can manipulate equipment and explore objects.
  • Sensory and exploratory play skills will extend so that they can engage in a variety of activities that will extend knowledge and understanding of the world.
  • Develop visual skills (including location, fixation, tracking, transferring of gaze) to their full potential to enable access to the visual environment and to support learning, play and communication.

Obviously, there has been a handover for the boxes, and Peak School have developed guidelines  for cleaning of boxes and equipment, which has been well organised, with all Covid-19 guidelines being strictly followed.

Our children and young people have been a government afterthought

As a parent carer of a daughter with special needs, I’ve certainly felt like the Government support has always been an afterthought. Peak School have created a blueprint for home learning, and hopefully by sharing our success story in these dark lockdown times we can inspire other families and schools to contact their local Councils and MP’s to push the Government to look at funding specialist equipment. 

Nicki with Isabella

The impact on children developmentally and whole families from a mental health aspect will be invaluable. Parent Carers are also the forgotten ones in this pandemic, and unfortunately the support outside of school, at this time, is still unacceptably scarce.  

Our special needs children and families need some positive support!Follow the links below to see how amazing our kids are when given the correct equipment!

YouTube for  ‘What About Us’ Peak School fundraiser song

Facebook for Peak School Education 2020 campaign videos and photos;

Written by Nicki Morley

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