Embedding Wikis into Everyday Practice
Ash Lea School in Nottingham is working towards all pupils having Rix Wikis to aid communication between home, school, and other professionals.
Like many pupils at Ash Lea School, a special school in Nottinghamshire, fourteen year-old Tom Bosanquet has his own Wiki Website. It contains video clips, photographs and documents that together paint a picture of a young man who loves music, is a keen powered wheelchair football player and an avid supporter of Nottingham Forest FC.
Tom who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is a full-time wheelchair user. He also has moderate learning difficulties and is on the autism spectrum, and so his Wiki also contains a range of information related to his condition, to inform the team of education and health professionals that supports him.
‘It’s like a living All About Me booklet,’ says Tom’s mother, Claire. ‘One of the biggest benefits, I think, is that if you’re new to working with Tom, you can get to know him very quickly, what he likes and dislikes and what is going on for him at any particular time.’
Entitlement and Uptake
Since 2015, every child or young person who receives support for a special educational need or disability and who lives or studies in the County of Nottinghamshire, has been eligible for a Rix Wiki Website, funded by the local authority.
Originally, the Wikis were offered directly to families, but the uptake was very slow. More recently, however, schools have been able to apply for Wikis on behalf of their pupils, so long as parents agree. Luke Skillington, the teacher with responsibility for Wiki development at Ash Lea School believes that this was a smart move. ‘In the first year, the only way for a child to get a Wiki was for a parent to be motivated enough to create one themselves, there was no guidance or support from school at all, and it just wasn’t happening,’ he remembers. ‘Now we’re able to be much more pro-active in creating Wikis and in the support we offer to pupils and their parents.’
Embedding Wikis into Practice
To signal its commitment to embedding Wikis into everyday practice, the senior leadership team at Ash Lea School created a teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) payment for Mr Skillington to lead and coordinate Wiki development. He got to work straight away, sending out a letter to parents explaining the purpose and potential of Wikis and requesting consent to create a Wiki for each child. He received a very positive response, and where there were concerns, about security for example, these were easily allayed by a phone call or a brief meeting.
With parents giving him the go-ahead, the next step was to decide how to roll out Wikis across the school in a planned and sustainable way. It was decided to start with new pupils, so the offer of a Wiki was added to the school induction process. Now every family has the opportunity to opt for a Wiki when their child enrols with the school.
For existing pupils, the introduction of Wikis is timed to coincide with the Education, Health and Care (EHC) conversion process, with Wikis replacing paper-based All About Me booklets. ‘We identified one member of staff in each class as a “Wiki Champion” and they all undertook the Rix online Wiki training,’ explains Mr Skilington. ‘Now, as each child transfers to an EHC plan, the Wiki Champion works with the child to populate their Wiki. Pupils then use that Wiki in their EHC planning meeting to share information about themselves.’
Ash Lea have created a template for their Wikis using Makaton symbols, which provides an easy starting point for adding information. The template also helps to ensure that all the necessary information is included for EHC planning purposes.
Across the school, staff work with pupils during curriculum time, gathering information and creating content for their Wikis. The Wiki is then shared with parents, with a request for photos or additional information to be sent in or added to the Wiki from home. ‘By engaging parents in this way, we hope to encourage a collaborative approach to building Wikis between home and school, with information being shared from both sides,’ says Luke Skillington. ‘We want to support pupils and parents to become confident in using Wikis, now and in the future, as a useful tool for collaboration and to share important information about their child.’
Claire Bosanquet, who has recognised the value of Wikis from the outset, welcomes the school’s efforts to encourage parents to get involved. ‘The potential of Wikis is fantastic but like anything new, people have to get used to using them,’ she says. ‘And that will only happen if they become a routine way of communicating between home and school. Regular exchange of video clips, photos and paperwork via the Wiki will help to establish that.’
Completing the Circle
One of the advantages of Wikis is that information needed by teams of professionals that support children with complex needs can be uploaded and shared quickly and easily. For example, for a child that needs postural management throughout the day, one video clip or a series of photographs uploaded to the Wiki, can be viewed by all the staff that support that child.
However, if this potential to be realised, all professionals involved with a child need to be familiar with Wikis and, more importantly, to use them. ‘If professionals are not asking to see them, or if a parent says “My child’s got a Wiki” and the professional says “Oh what’s that?”, then we’re lost,’ says Luke Skillington.
Aware of the importance of this, and to establish a culture of Wiki use across the authority, Nottinghamshire County Council has initiated Wiki training for professionals across all departments. From a parent’s point of view, Claire Bosanquet finds the potential for sharing information with professionals, via the Wiki, very attractive.
Potential and Impact
Luke Skillington sees the potential benefits of Wikis for all the children in his school. For children with profound and multiple needs, where the Wikis will be fully advocated, they are a means of sharing information with all the people in their lives. For other pupils they provide a useful communication tool. ‘We’ve got one boy who can struggle to stay on topic,’ says Mr Skillington. ‘But because he’s been through the process of building his Wiki, he can open it up and talk through a series of photographs he’s uploaded about the things he’s done and the things he likes doing.
‘We’ve got one boy who can struggle to stay on topic,’ says Mr Skillington. ‘But because he’s been through the process of building his Wiki, he can open it up and talk through a series of photographs he’s uploaded about the things he’s done and the things he likes doing.
Claire Bosanquet also sees great value in using Wikis beyond the school. She already uses them to communicate with family members who live some distance away, and thinks that they could be a really useful in university interviews for her elder son Jack, who also has Duchenne, and is currently studying for his A-levels.