As the importance of accessible learning has been increasingly highlighted in recent months with a third national lockdown and remote teaching, I spoke to local resident Ava Tanner on her involvement in the Special Educational Needs Department of a school in the private sector.

Ava Tanner, a learning support assistant in Special Education, has certainly learnt a lot since joining her field. After spending six years in the Special Educational Needs Department, and currently working completely remotely at home, it’s clear from our conversation that her job has served as an important marker in her life. “I am a Learning Support Assistant, helping a severely visually impaired child have access to mainstream education.” She continues: “This means making text simpler and larger; verbally describing visual sources during lessons and exams; devising methods of presenting STEM diagrams, charts or figures; keeping on top of new technological innovations; and perhaps even retyping old exam papers from scratch to required specifications.”

Following an initial position at a local primary school helping to accommodate a visually-impaired child, Ava has found a special enjoyment in following the progress of her pupils through her help. On the question of what working in special education has taught her, Ava notes: “Every child deserves the right to an equal education where possible, and I’ve learnt that they can surprise you in many aspects by exceeding what anybody thinks that they can achieve. 

“Personally, I’ve even enjoyed the experience of going back to school - I’ve augmented my foreign language skills in the process, and being in a classroom environment without having the pressures of student life and homework has certainly been rewarding!” Since accepting her position, Ava has also learnt Braille, which she declares “keeps my mind active!”

It’s a common misconception that these communication systems are useless to learn; in many cases, even knowing a few signs in BSL or having a basic understanding of Braille can be a huge progression towards empathy for disabled people. Ava affirms a similar sentiment: “It’s been undoubtedly rewarding. Although I work with a visually-impaired student, I would encourage everyone to look into learning sign language. Communication is such an important part of taking care of ourselves, and with the lockdown I think we’re beginning to understand how it feels to lack that ability.”

Despite the love she shares for her job, we’re both aware of a growing call for more funding in education, and in particular, the SEN department. “I would think that schools in general would benefit from more funding in my department; each new intake brings more and more children with specialised academic needs - it seems to be a growing trend.” She remarks: “As well as this, more parents are becoming open to the idea of registering their child for SEN help and qualifying for extra time in exams, so it’s not exactly a position that’s likely to go away.”

Surprisingly, Ava also proclaims an effusive interest in the investment of technology in schools. “I would like to see every child able to use technology in a classroom environment - handwriting essays is a thing of the past!” She goes on to clarify: “I think everyone still needs to be able to write by hand, but working in my field has taught me that the use of word processing and the ability to access free, digitised library resources is the way forward. 

“It’s a very individual situation, but with the transition to remote learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, my pupil has been able to access the curriculum more easily than some of his cohort because it’s all being taught using digital technology, which was how he had to work anyway.”

Regardless, it’s clear from our discussion that Ava shares a great passion for her job - the ability to help others, to inspire empathy, and to assist with inclusivity has proven to be an invaluable part of her life in Special Education.