A SPECIAL SERVICE
Birmingham-based Brays School is, literally, changing lives – thanks to a phenomenal piece of technology. Eye Gaze Technology was introduced to the school a few years ago. The tracker device uses a student’s gaze to control a tablet and its apps – thereby aiding learning for those with severe or profound physical, verbal communication or learning difficulties.
“It all started because of a pupil a couple of years ago, who was cognitively able but very physically disabled,” says Hollie Hipkiss, the school’s Technology Faculty Lead. “We wanted to find a way for him to express himself and to become an independent learner. The results have been phenomenal, enabling some children with severe difficulties to access and engage with the full curriculum.” Head of School Ann Whitehouse agrees. “We have discovered untapped potential in some of the children with most profound difficulties and potential to maintain vital skills for pupils with degenerative conditions,” she says. “We are training all our staff to use the equipment to benefit the maximum number of children.”
An outstanding school
Brays is a mixed special school that has been graded “Outstanding” by Ofsted. It hosts around 175 students aged two to 11 across its two sites in Birmingham. The Tile Cross site currently has 68 places for pupils with autism, while the Sheldon site has places for 112 pupils with a very wide range of complex physical, learning, communication and sensory difficulties. Brays has a wider remit, too, as a National Support School, a National School of Creativity and a National Teaching School.
The transformative eye-gaze tracking technology comprises a tablet, height-adjustable stand and camera. “The eyes basically become the hands, as they enable control,” says Hipkiss. “The software can be calibrated to each student, using programs and pathways to slowly build up their engagement and interaction. These programs prepare the child for later using the technology as an advanced communication and learning aid.”
Such is the success of the technology at Brays that it has been slowly integrated into each classroom. “At first, the children used the technology in a separate room,” says Hipkiss, “but now that they and the staff are more used to it, the technology is being used in every classroom. We want to make it an integral part of school life.” The long-term plan is to get more of the devices into the school, particularly as the technology is becoming ever more affordable – though, says Hipkiss, the cost is not prohibitive. “Being able to change a child’s life and education for the better is priceless,” she says.