We spoke to Stephen Boyle, head of the Accessible Education Team (AxEd) in Kista, to get a view of the important work they do. “The purpose of accessible education is to give students the best opportunities to achieve in every subject. Not to just pass the subject, but to achieve well and understand what the subject is about. The aim is to prepare them for life beyond elementary school, whatever that may be.”
Mr Boyle has been teaching since 1995 and his background is primarily in the UK, where he taught until 2016 when he moved to Sweden. He is a fully qualified teacher with extensive experience in UK secondary education and sixth form. Mr Boyle has taught many different subjects and has been a head of department at several schools, a curriculum director (similar to an academic manager/AP academics) and has been involved with special education in most of the schools he has worked in. He also taught at foundation degree level when he was the head of health and social care at a further education college in the south west of England. Mr Boyle has spent almost his entire career working with students with special educational needs.
How would you describe accessible education? “Accessible education is where we support the students to access the curriculum if they are having difficulties. This is done in a variety of ways, from teacher-led classroom adaptations to direct intervention and one-to-one teaching with one of the special teachers. The special teachers will also map the student’s abilities and levels as well as adapt the subject content to the level that the student may be working at. It could be that a student is functioning at one or more grades below where they should be for a multitude of reasons. Support is also provided by student assistants, who tend to work very closely with one student.”
Which students can get support? “All students are entitled to support. It is more a case of who receives what type of support.”
Describe your work with AxEd in Kista? “We conduct pedagogical investigations with students who are having difficulties with their subjects. We investigate students for dyslexia and dyscalculia. We provide classroom adaptations for students with an academic diagnosis, suspected or otherwise. We also provide adaptations for teachers to try with students whom they suspect may need to be investigated, and we provide general classroom adaptations to all staff to use with students in their classroom as a method of best practice. We provide support for students in small groups as well as providing support with their national tests. We refer students for external investigation with BUP and speech therapist, and we advise teachers and mentors as to the AxEd student’s academic progress in small groups or one-to-one sessions for the SPT meetings.”
What are your greatest strengths and successes? “I think the greatest strength is the dedication of the team. Every one of our teachers is 100% focused on what is best for the students. Each teacher will go the extra mile, often outside of their contact time, to support their students. The department is also very well organised, everything is recorded and linked to the curriculum.”
The parents are usually fully on board with what the AxEd team does and the level of communication between them is high. One parent with a student in year nine said: “Their dedication to doing right by all students in need of support is utterly amazing. In a time when I hear too often how parents are disappointed by their schools in managing students' needs, I feel I'm spoiled rotten by having the best advocate working at my daughter's school. She is excelling in a way we never imagined and taking her concerns seriously from the start was a true game-changer. Having heard so many nightmare stories really make me feel we lucked-out with a dedicated staff who are truly looking out for the best of the students.”
More information about the different support systems:
DIRECT SUPPORT There are two forms of direct support: The first direct support is where the special teacher takes a student, or a small group of students and will teach them in a different setting, away from the normal class. This form of support is heavily focused on tailoring the teacher’s materials to the level the student is working at. In some cases, the student will need different materials as they may be in grade nine but can only function with grade five work, for example. The special teacher, in some cases, will go back to basics and will work with the student to help them ultimately pass the subject. The second form is where the special teacher goes into the classroom to work with the student in the classroom setting. This is usually done when the student is struggling with some aspects of the subject and may require short-term help from the special teacher for clarity.
ADAPTATIONS These are special classroom changes that are given to the teachers, so they understand their individual student’s needs better. The teachers receive two sets of adaptations. The first set is general adaptations, more like examples of best practice, that the teachers can try if they have some students who seem to struggle with aspects of the subject. These general adaptations are more suggestions and ideas for the teacher to use to help the students in their class. The second set of adaptations is specific and targeted to a named student. Often, they will consist of general adaptations, as these will still work, but they are accompanied by much more specific classroom changes that the teacher can put in place in order to help that particular child.
SPECIAL SUPPORT GROUP The special support group was set up to help a group of students that had very specific and complex needs. They were together in a small group setting with one of my special teachers and they had extra support in the form of structured lessons, in the core subjects plus SO & NO. The special teacher would use the time to work on specific things with the students who may have been working on multiple subjects at the same time.
PEDAGOGICAL INVESTIGATION This is where the student is investigated, to identify any academic difficulties. The teachers are asked to feed back on the student’s classroom performance based on a set of academic questions that are subject-specific and are designed to work out where the student is struggling. For example, language teachers are asked about the student’s ability to decode and understand grammatical structure. The questions are subject-specific. The special teachers then feed their comments into the investigation, as does the student care team if relevant. Once that is all completed, a decision is made as to the type of support the student needs. It could be just adaptations or telling the student to attend tutorials or supporting them with homework, but in some cases, it does lead to a referral to the school doctor for further investigation by BUP or a speech therapist.
DYSLEXIA / DYSCALCULIA REFERRAL The teachers and/or parents may ask us to look at a student as they fear there is a language issue. The student is taken into the special education department, and they are mapped against the subject using Swedish National Education Agency (Skolverket) mapping documents. English and Swedish teachers are also asked to feed back on their observations, and all of this is put together into a speech therapist’s feedback form and referred to the nurse for a speech therapy appointment. The student is then looked at by the speech therapist, who will determine whether there is a diagnosis to be had for dyslexia, dyscalculia, or a developmental language disorder. This is then fed back to us at school, and the parents, so that support can be put in place.
ÅTGÄRDSPROGRAM This is primarily used for extra special support where all other options have not worked fully. The åtgärdsprogram can encompass specific adaptations, intensive special teacher support, full-time student assistants, extra support groups, schedule changes or all of the actions that have been detailed above. The åtgärdsprogram is put together by Mr Boyle but is unable to be implemented unless the principal agrees to the measures being put in place.