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Should we limit the use of laptops as a normal way of working in schools?

As schools try to get back to pre-pandemic norms, (whichever norms they choose to keep), there is a digital consequence from the pandemic that may never actually leave the education sector.

As teachers nationwide were forced to use the likes of Zoom, Teams or Google Classroom, we showed our versatility and determination to learn new technological skills, teach digitally and manage behaviour remotely, in a bid to do anything and everything we could to support our pupils. It was perhaps the most resilient and inspiring set of behaviours demonstrated by the teaching profession in history.

Lockdown meant that we even had to share screens with pupils and teach them how to use the technology that became utterly crucial in delivering some semblance of normality. Some pupils seemed to thrive in a home environment with the ability to stop and play back lessons at their own pace. Whilst others seemed to become more and more miserable with the lack of in-person interaction. It was mostly very, very difficult for all parties.

If we had been told six months prior to the start of the pandemic that we would be forced to learn to teach whole classes purely online for a three-month period, we probably would have fallen about laughing. It seemed far fetched and ridiculous, and yet the whole teaching profession moved mountains and juggled all sorts of demands to make that very result happen.

As we move forward post-Covid, there are anxious teens and an increasing number of school refusers nationally

As we come out of the pandemic (and hope to never look back) we are still dealing with the ramifications of the pandemic in education. We have stressed-out pupils who don’t know what it truly feels like to sit a formal exam. We have previously pre-pubescent teens who are now much more mature but significantly more anxious and, in some cases, less resilient. We even have pupils with undiagnosed autism who have been the victim of extensive diagnostic NHS waiting lists and who have sadly become school refusers. Managing school online without the added stress of social pressures was a welcome breath of fresh air for some pupils.

Fazilet Hadi, Head of Policy at Disability Rights UK states that:

“The figures for school refusers are shocking, and there are many more who are no longer refusers who have been off-rolled and are home schooled because they cannot cope with the culture of stress in many schools. These children often experience mental health conditions including high anxiety.”

Laptops and assistive technology are fast becoming the norm and we must not lag behind

One of the main issues experienced in school is the increase in use of laptops as a “normal way of working”. As a SENCo, the JCQ ruling on the use of laptops for GCSE and GCE exams is broad and sketchy to say the least.

Essentially, if your school has a laptop policy, any pupil can have one. This is both worrying and exciting at the same time. On the one hand, we know that tools such as “Speech to Text”, “Dictate”, and “Read Aloud” can be game changing support for pupils with dyslexia, dysgraphia or who experience difficulties with fine motor skills. As a result, there is much pressure to introduce laptops early in academic lives: from parents wanting children to be taught using the latest equipment, to teachers wanting the best results, and employers wanting their future workforce to be technology-fit.

Most students with Special Educational Needs Disabilities (SEND) are encouraged to use a laptop in class and in examinations. Going forward, if we are allowing an infinitely increasing number of pupils to use a laptop, we have a responsibility to make sure that the pupil’s handwriting speed and typing speed are at least on a par and that there is not a significant difference.

GL Assessment software can help to support SENCOs make an informed analytical judgement on whether to allow a pupil to use a laptop or not and to see how they might benefit.

GL Assessment’s Lucid Exact software is a fantastic tool to help SENCOs test speeds of working using automated software. It has an excellent validity score compared to paper based cognitive assessments such as the TOWRE-2, or the DASH. It also flags when a pupil has moved so quickly through one of the subtests that they could not have feasibly thought through their answers.

Used properly, Lucid Exact enables SENCOs to have in-person conversations with a pupil and to show them if there is a difference in their handwriting and typing speed. On a personal note, I rarely find that pupils today (post COVID) are slower typing than handwriting. So, if you consider the basic advantage this speed of working would give them when sitting a timed test or exam, it feels like a natural progression into whole school digital education very soon.

Figure 1: A sample report that Lucid Exact generates for each student.

Ultimately, pupil organisation skills are key

If a LUCID EXACT assessment is carried out, as the analyst we can clearly see the difference in speed of handwriting and speed of typing within each report. A child who is not ready, and who would not benefit from using a laptop “full time” will have a slower output on a keyboard than when handwriting. Generally, to make a computer a useful tool, a pupil also needs to be supported to set up files per subject, so that they can save work to appropriate place on their PC. It is also helpful to set out expectations with a pupil around handing in completed work that may be typed rather than handwritten. Do subject teachers still expect work to be printed out and stuck in an exercise book? Or can the work be emailed? Should the work be uploaded on Teams? Every setting will be different. It is too easy to forget that many pupils will lack the digital skills needed to support their move over to a laptop as their “normal way of working.” However, the benefits of working on a laptop can be extensive.

For more guidance on Access Arrangements and a huge library of SENCo tools, join SEN Buddy on an individual membership or a school membership.


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