Accessible and inclusive blended learning – for everyone

As BlendEd kicks off a new video series exploring the practical ways in which technology can support inclusive and accessible digital learning, CLC’s Peter Lillington introduces the topic. 

During the pandemic, and as students have been returning to school, the disparities between individuals as a result of the digital divide has been thrown into sharp relief. Before the pandemic, Ofcom figures showed that 9% of children – between 1.1 and 1.8 million – did not have access to laptops, devices or tablets at home. The government’s pledge of 1.3 million devices along with the efforts of school leaders to rustle up laptops has still left a significant number of pupils without their own device, or adequate data and connectivity, to do their school work effectively.

But there is another side to accessibility and inclusion that has received less high-profile attention over the last year: the extent to which remote or blended learning involving technology – alongside in-class work with or without technology – has had an impact on children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. 

Significant advantages

It’s an area that the Chartered College of Teaching has looked at in its recent (Feb 2021) review of research evidence on supporting all students’ learning, wellbeing and engagement. It notes that:

“Despite certain challenges that the online learning environment presents for students with and without SEND, it also holds significant advantages that can support students’ learning. For example, the ability to learn at their own pace, access recorded materials as often as they need to, and use screen readers or adapt the layout of content easily to their needs, are only some of the benefits of learning in an online environment. Consideration should therefore be given to how those features of distance learning that have been found to be beneficial for students’ learning through this crisis can continue to be implemented once schools reopen to more students.

However, it also highlights that blended learning can bring a range of challenges, such as a stronger reliance on the written word, which can be a particular challenge for students with developmental language disorder (DLD), dyslexia, Down’s syndrome and visual impairments; additional distraction, which can be particularly difficult for students with ADHD; the need to operate a keyboard or mouse, a potential difficulty for students with Down’s syndrome and certain physical disabilities. Small and blurry videos and audio lags can make it challenging for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and rely on lip-reading to hear what is said.

Nuanced concerns

It underscores the point made in the Disabled Students’ Commission Annual Report 2020-2021: Enhancing the disabled student experience that, while the increased flexibility offered by online learning was welcomed by some students, others had concerns, which were “nuanced and often differed by impairment type, highlighting the need to not treat disabled students as a homogenous group, and to recognise that the support requirements differ in complexity.”

However, what comes across clearly is the role that technology can play in making learning more inclusive and accessible. Crucially, by designing for diversity as a default, learning content becomes better for everyone, not just those pupils or students with a demonstrable need for it.

Empowering learners

While the widely referenced European Framework for the Digital Competence for Educators (DigCompEdu) predates the pandemic, teachers may wish to consider Area 5, which is about Empowering Learners, and includes proficiency statements on a scale ranging from Newcomer to Pioneer (bearing in mind that this neat progression which may not match real life experience!)

  1. Newcomer who is concerned about accessibility but is afraid that technology may make participation harder for some students
  2. Integrator  – descriptive statements include: I ensure that all students have access to the digital technologies I use. I am aware that compensatory digital technologies can be used for learners’ in need of special support (eg learners with physical or mental constraints; learners with learning disorders).
  3. Expert – descriptive statements include:  I consider and respond to potential accessibility issues when selecting, modifying or creating digital resources and provide alternative or compensatory tools or approaches for learners with special needs. I employ digital technologies and strategies, eg assistive technologies, to remediate individual learners’ accessibility problems, eg visual or hearing impairments.
  4. Leader – descriptive statements include:  I employ design principles for increasing accessibility for the resources and digital environments used in teaching, eg as concerns font, size, colours, language, layout, structure.
  5. Pioneer in this area is typified as someone who is regularly ‘innovating strategies for accessibility and inclusion.

Exploring and signposting

Over the course of the next few weeks, as part of the BlendEd programme, we’ll be exploring some of the practical ways in which this consideration of what technology can offer can be done, signposting and highlighting features that the main platforms offer, as well as some specific tools and resources that are freely available plus some approaches and strategies.

This is a huge area, potentially taking into consideration individual special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), students with English as an additional language learners (EAL), or students who are more able or gifted in some way. There may also be students who have specific short-term needs due to illness or other circumstances.

Video series

Our first guest video on this theme, contributed by John Galloway and Hilary Norton, who both have extensive experience of advising schools in this area, picks up on the DigCompEdu statement of ‘I ensure that all students have access to the digital technologies I use’ and serves as a general introduction to this area with a specific focus on literacy tools and process.

The video can be watched with or without subtitles and a transcript is available

Whatever platform you are using it’s important to check awareness and familiarity with all that’s on offer to support inclusion and accessibility. The links below offer a starting point:

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Upcoming CPD

Summer primary school computing conference
Summer primary school computing conference

This event will build upon the Autumn computing conference by inviting subject leaders to reflect on their year in the role, sharing their successes and challenges. It will also introduce new ideas, tools and approaches through talks and practical activities led by members of the CLC team, with opportunities for attendees to share their own expertise and experience. Over the course of the conference activities will touch on the three main areas of the computing curriculum: computer science, digital literacy and information technology. We will also feature advice and examples illustrating the use of technology to support blended learning.

- 15:30
Computing subject leaders, Teachers...
Creative Arts, Digital and children – CLC meets More Than Robots online
Creative Arts, Digital and children - CLC meets More Than Robots online

Combining forces for the first time, the Connected Learning Centre and More Than Robots have created a session for teachers, youth organisations, researchers and policymakers interested in the digital provision of creative arts for primary aged pupils.


The Play Observatory - Prof. John Potter

“In their own words”: Westminster Abbey & CLC digital projects - Sian Shaw

Building (and maintaining) a city-wide primary arts curriculum to raise attainment - Kate Fellows

More to be added soon

This interactive and inclusive meet up will include inspiring examples of how technology can be used to support learning in music, visual art and drama in person and online at home drawing on our experiences as Tate Exchange associates and our partnership work with a range of cultural institutions.

This informal event is an opportunity to discuss real examples of what does/doesn’t work, meet colleagues from other sectors working on similar challenges and share useful research, news or updates

The morning will include case study presentations (details below) followed by a Q&A. There will also be an opportunity for a rapid sharing round for launches, project updates or requests for help and a short break to avoid zoom brain drain.

- 11:30
KS1, KS2
Subject leaders, Teachers...

Upcoming Special projects

The News Project
- 14:25

Special project in collaboration with First News Education

For a third year, building on two successful previous projects, we are once again partnering with the children’s newspaper First News, fellow member of the national Making Sense of Media and News Literacy networks. This special project with a literacy, PSHE and citizenship, as well as computing focus, highlights our specialist interest in this important aspect of digital and critical literacy.

The News Project will enable participating classes from year 5 to immerse themselves in news and current affairs using First News and the Bett award-winning First News iHUB, which will be provided free of charge during the school-based part of the project over a six week period. Under the guidance of their teacher, pupils will be supported in their development as a community of fully informed news readers. Classes will test their new critical skills and knowledge in the culminating virtual celebration event which will include a news competition and team-based critical literacy and editorial activities. After the event, schools will be able to use the resources from the day in their school.

The project will launch with an introductory CPD session for teachers to set the context, demonstrate resources and to plan for the school-based activities. 

Initial CPD session - Thursday 21st October 4pm-5.00pm. 

Project work undertaken in school - October and November.

Special event - Thursday 25th November 9.30am-2.45pm.

The Garden Museum

The CLC is once again partnering with the Garden Museum to offer a partnership project for KS1 pupils (primarily suited to Yr2). Located next to Lambeth Palace on the bank of the Thames, the museum has an inspiring collection that provides the ideal stimulus for young learners to explore the world around them.

Pupils will use technology alongside the museum’s collection to explore the wonderful world of seeds.

  • How are they planted?
  • How do they spread?
  • What is inside them?

 The Garden Museum has a large collection of seeds and tools that pupils will engage with.

These half-day sessions will take place at the Garden Museum.

There is a limited number of dates available, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

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