Shows and conferences

The National Education Show

I have to admit that after a fortnight including the Welsh Autism Show, ACAMH’s Dyslexia Conference and the TES SEN Show, I almost decided not to attend this one. I was busy working with university students in Bristol during the week and had an assessment booked for Saturday morning…

What can I say? The venue, Cardiff City Hall was simply magnificent. It is a splendid Edwardian building that manages somehow to be at once imposing and welcoming. I don’t know how vast halls can seem cosy, but there was an approachable intimacy about the place that I just can’t rationalise. Even the marble statues of Welsh historical figures from Boudica onwards seemed benignly indulgent rather than foreboding. (And yes, I do know that Boudica hailed from what we now consider East Anglia, but we Celts stick together!) But enough of my architectural crush…


I drove and (foolishly) took the top listing of an NCP car park on City Hall’s website as a recommendation. I had assumed that the venue parking would be full, and that the nearest NCP rates would be on a par with rates at the St David’s Shopping Centre, about 5 or 10 minutes’ walk away. I was wrong.  The eyewatering parking charges were not visible until I had driven too far into the car park to turn arund, and so I ended up paying as much to park as I would have spent on the train –  lesson learnt.


I had, of course, seen the full list of exhibitors but the full impact of quite so many stalls has to be experienced to be truly appreciated. It would easily have taken a full day to do all of them justice, so I tried to be selective. Inevitably, I will have missed some gems. Just a few highlights, then.

I’m pretty familiar with Nessy‘s programs that offer support dyslexia-friendly phonics, literacy learning, touch-typing as well as dylexia screening and training, and have keenly promoted their discounts and offers during Dyslexia Awareness Week.

It was good to see the National Handwriting Association represented at the show. This charity’s “aims are to raise awareness of the importance of handwriting as a vital component of literacy, to promote good practice in the teaching of handwriting and to support those who work with children with handwriting difficulties.” I frequently signpost parents and teachers to their website, which is a terrific source of research-based information, advice and resources for supporting learners who find handwriting effortful and uncomfortable. I would recommend membership for parents and teachers (school and clinic membersghips are also available).

When we begin research, we are taught to be critical, and to look for evidence to both prove and dispute claims. I know that the only certainty with so-called memory-boosting games/software, is that they improve the particular task or activity that is being practised, and that generalisability (that is, improvement across other areas of learning and performance) is extremenly hard to effect or prove. BUT, I do see real value in strategy games, particulary for confidence and attention. In my experience, if a game or activity is introduced, and the strategies employed are explicitly taught – not just practised – so that the student understands that these strategies can be applied to other areas of life and learning, this can be hugely beneficial. Mindsports Education offer individual and school/class membership to a secure online environment where skills games can be played against real oponents.

When I worked in early Key Stage 2, there would always be some students who had learnt to tell the time confidently (it features heavily in the KS1 maths curriculum), and others who just couldn’t get it. We always had physical clock faces that could be manipulated, and I invested in a cheap supermarket wall clock with the 5 minute steps marked by alternating arcs of blue and orange, which hung above a digital clock. EasyRead time teacher has gone a step further. Their clocks show past/to (also available in Welsh!)  and mark the individual minutes. I suspect that the sheer volume of information displayed would overwhelm a student with specific learning difficulties, but I can see that it could be a useful addition to some classrooms.

Just for fun – check out the technology behind Moe the Monkey. I’m not sure whether it’s the shape of things to come, but there are intriguing possibilities being developed in the fields of virtual reality and augmented reality. (They’re working on a game to test children’s eyesight, too.)

If you’ve read my blogs on supporting reading and writing, you’ll know that I believe well-taught phonics has its place, both in early years and support lessons but that I recognise it’s only part of the complex mix that goes into successfully mastering English literacy. That said, if the phonics scheme that has become almost ubiquitous in British schools has not unlocked early skills for reading and spelling for your readers, you might be interested in Phonic Books. Their range of books and games goes from Early Years to adult level and is designed to support both students with specific learning difficulties and those who are new to English. (Sample copies are available to teachers.)

The show was supported (among others) by nasen (National Association of Special Educaional Needs). Do check out their resources and conferences if you don’t already know them. Membership is tiered, and the first level is free.

There’s more, and I hope to have time to blog about some of the products I’m planning to trial having seen them at the show…

The seminar list was almost overwhelming in its offer, and I struggled to choose. I started by ruling out the speakers I had heard before, then the subjects covered in my masters study followed by the topics of any recent talks attended. This still left an awful lot of choice. I found that several of the talks that interested me most were happening at the same time, which made chosing even harder!

I finally decided to attend Nina Jackson‘s excellent seminar Practical Strategies for using iPads with SEND. I’m not going to go into detail here, as this has already gone on too long, but I have already downloaded the recommended apps and started practising. I will be using the strategies with students and sharing Nina’s ideas with teachers and parents alike, as well as alerting everyone who’ll listen to the breadth of accessible features included as standard. I thought I knew a fair bit about iPads and accessibility, but Nina has given me a whole new toolbox! Again, I’ll be blogging about all of this once I have tried it for myself and there’s time.

I’m really hoping I’ll be able to attend the next show, and have already started recommending it to friends and colleagues.

More blogs on shows and conferences can be found here

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