What the resource is.
This resource is an 'Evaluation of the Communication Aids Project (CAP)' carried out by the Department of Human Communication Science, University College London in collaboration with the Centre of Health Economics, University of York, between July 2003 and April 2004.
The Communication Aids Project (CAP) became operational in April 2002 and ran until March 2006. CAP was managed for the DfES by the British Educational and Communications Technology Agency (BECTA) and received government funding, initially until March 2004 (a grant of £10m), securing further funding to extend the project until March 2006 (an additional £11m). The aim of the Communication Aids Project (CAP) was 'to help pupils who have communication difficulties by providing technology to help them access the curriculum and interact with others and support their transition to post - school provision' (Wright et al, June 2004:13). It sought to support school aged children who had difficulty in:
- understanding language
- communicating verbally
- using written communication (ibid)
through the provision of Information and Communications Technology (ICT).
The aims of the resource.
This resource aims to evaluate three fundamental aspects of the Communication Aids Project:
The impact of CAP on pupils receiving communication aids.
The process of the CAP strategy of delivery.
The cost of the CAP service.
The evaluation explored these issues through:
- an analysis of the CAP database
- data collection through a variety of methods from a number of different sources
- individual child case studies (to capture the children's opinions)
- an exploratory cost analysis, resulting in the estimation of the cost per child of the CAP service
Key findings or focus.
The executive summary highlights seven key findings.
Firstly all of the professionals and parents / carers involved in the evaluation clearly acknowledge that without this specific funding 'many of the children might not have been able to receive communication aids at all' (Wright et al, June 2004:7).
The children who received the communication aids report to the evaluation team that their quality of life had been improved, and also that their functional abilities had positively changed.
The evaluation identifies issues with regards to the application process of CAP, such as the variance in referrals across areas of the country, and the time required prior to a communication aid actually being received by a child.
From the data analysed the evaluation found that 88% of applications were for children with a Statement of Educational Need; that 42% were for children in special schools and that four out of every ten children (41%) only applied for support with written communication. The evaluation also indicates that the most frequently mentioned disability on application forms is cerebral palsy (28%), followed by blind/ visual impairment (11%).
Professionals other than Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) and specialist teachers are shown to find the application procedures complicated and lacking in clarity. (SLTs were found to have the highest success rate with applications whilst SENCos had a much lower success rate)
Multi-professional team assessments are found to be extremely valuable, professional and of a high quality.
The cost of CAP varied considerably across the specialist centres, from £2298 to £8978 per child.
Another key finding of interest from this resource is that school staff expressed that there is a need not only for training, but also for monitoring, to ensure that they are working effectively with children who require communication aids. At times of transition it is reported that communication aids are beneficial, but that at these times staff find it additionally demanding to support the children, especially if training is not forthcoming. Under a section headed 'impact of the communication aids' it is noted that classroom staff are finding it quite challenging to integrate the use of communication aids into classroom work and also managing parents' expectations when their child receives an aid. Hence training is identified as one of the main areas that requires further development by both parents and education staff. A high quality assessment of communication needs also should take into account an assessment of the skills and knowledge of the day to day adults, professionals and perhaps potential peer group and any consequent training needs.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource.
This evaluation report is written and organised in a clear and useful manner for readers. It aids the reader in understanding CAP as it does reflect the service process from application to assessment through to the delivery of a communication aid. It also includes the views of service users -parents and children- to add value to its findings.
This evaluation clearly identifies aspects for further development and improvement of CAP, through its many recommendations. The 3060 records on the CAP application database and the 1641 records on a separate assessment database did result in useful data being gathered for both health and education authorities across the country with regards to their provision of communication aids. However other data gathered through interviews (face-to-face and telephone) and questionnaires was very limited, with very low numbers of individuals contacted. Although the data was collected over two phases, the extremely short time span between each of these phases questions the long term value of the findings, particularly with regard to the impact of CAP on the children receiving communication aids. The centrality of the parents and families understanding and active engagement with this process is one finding that does suggest areas where the process could be more effective.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors.
This could be a valuable resources for tutors / mentors to use with students in several ways. Firstly it provides a useful introduction to what communication aids are and who they can help in supporting educational and social achievement. Chapters 7 and 8 are particularly valuable for exploring parental/carers and children's views and feelings, regarding their right to communicate independently of others. The methods of data collection utilised, particularly with regard to interviewing the children, could provide very useful and constructive ideas and discussions for students. The representation of findings gathered illustrated within this resource are varied, clear and well presented, again providing an excellent resource.
The relevance to ITE students.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), and in particular the use of high - tech communication aids are not frequently not encountered by students during ITE, but at some point in their career there is an increasing likelihood that they will encounter an AAC user and it is important that they should be aware of their role in facilitating the child's use of their communication within educational settings. The report in fact recommends increased knowledge in mainstream schools of SEN and ICT. For children with a wide range of disabilities a communication aid can literally 'open up their world'; to provide them with the means to actively engage in learning and develop relationships. Teachers need to be able and willing to understand the importance of this equipment for individuals and to have the support to enhance their skills at including all forms of AAC within their lesson planning and general organisation of a classroom during ITE. This resource could therefore be a useful introduction to this field of enquiry.
Alant, E. (2003) A developmental approach towards teacher training: a contradiction in terms? In Augmentative and Alternative Communication: Developmental Issues Edited by Stephen Von Tetzchner and Nicola Grove. Whurr Publishers: London and Philadelphia
Clarke M.T. and Kirton, A. (2003) Patterns of interaction between children with physical disabilities using augmentative and alternative communication and their peers, Child Language Teaching and Therapy