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£1.5m Access to Education Fund now open for schools

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 27th May, 2015 at 12:51pm

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£1.5m is now available for schools and clusters to help reduce barriers to learning for learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. This includes learners with additional support needs. 

The fund aims to help enhance a school's capacity to:

  • address barriers to learning caused by difficulties in accessing appropriate school resources, equipment, IT, or clothing;
  • provide learning experiences, outdoor learning or other activities which will boost learning and are an integral part of the school curriculum;
  • offer coaching and mentoring programmes for disadvantaged students to support them to become fully engaged in school and community life;
  • deliver parental engagement programmes to support parents to support their children;
  • engage with the wider community; and
  • develop or deliver innovative learning experiences which will raise educational attainment, promote attendance and encourage positive engagement.

I don't know exactly what type of projects get funded, by my eye was drawn to the mention of IT, so perhaps funding would be available to invest in laptops, tablets or software for a support for learning department? Some schools say they have very limited stocks of devices for students with ASN and so this may be one way to supplement your resources. Or how about developing a programme of coaching for learners to teach ICT skills "to support them to become fully engaged in school and community life" - you might have after-school sessions to develop basic ICT skills, or teach students how to use particular software or apps for accessing the curriculum.

To find out more, get the application forms, and see an example application from last year, visit the Access to Education Fund pages on the Education Scotland web site.

Last year there was considerable variation in the amount of funding awarded to schools in different local authorities: from Glasgow, where schools received £173,568, to Argyll & Bute, where schools received only £2,000. Don't miss out this year! Get your applications in before the deadline on 19th June! 


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A brief history of accessible PDFs

By Stuart Aitken on Monday 25th May, 2015 at 2:37pm

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Premiere this week in Riga Latvia – but you saw it first (blink and you will miss it!)

CALL had a bit of fun putting together a 1 minute video with closed captions:

Plus accompanying transcript (Word transcript (.doc) and text transcript (.txt)), on using and making accessible PDF documents. This week we share the video with European Union colleagues in Latvia as part of Scotland’s input to the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education (the Agency).

The whistle stop tour is on making and using an accessible PDF document – a maths book with ‘answer boxes’. This accessible format has proved tremendously popular with learners with a physical disability, visual impairment, autism and other support need. You can access the closed caption video on making and using a PDF. A transcript is provided for users who prefer a TXT version, and in MS Word and PDF formats.

The Riga event is the third and final session on driving forward the availability and use of accessible information in learning. CALL's Books for All website, the Books for All Scotland Database, Seeing Ear's catalogue and RNIB's Load2Learn are all ways of bringing accessible information (books) used in schools by disabled learners right into the classroom.

Riga participants will focus on implementation – making it happen not just in classrooms across Scotland but across lifelong learning, and not just in Scotland but across the European union. No small feat indeed. Happily, Scotland is in a strong position to showcase that in this country we actually already implement accessible information. The list of Scotland’s achievements in this area is a credit to everyone involved –to the many pupils, teachers and local authorities involved in some way or another, to SQA and digital question papers, ICTSLS, SAVIE members, Education Scotland (who together with Enquire are also representing Scotland in Riga. Not least, the enduring contribution of Scottish Government to this area has helped to ensure that accessible information for disabled pupils and those with additional support needs continues high on the agenda. Through these partnerships CALL will point participants to:

Each participant was invited to share a 1minute video of some aspect of accessible information for learning. Many CALL Scotland colleagues in classrooms across Scotland will recognise features of the video – SETT framework for assessment, bespoke tailoring of equipment for individual pupils, using inbuilt operating system features plus of course users of Digital Question Papers. Many primary schools teachers will recognised SHM books with answers boxes to allow easy moving between questions.

Please do give us some feedback. Bear in mind too that you can use the Pause / Resume button if it all proves a bit too fast!


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Latest additions to the Books for All Database

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 1st May, 2015 at 4:37pm

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We have uploaded another 96 books kindly contributed by Mary Matson at VTSS in Edinburgh to the Books for All Database. Some are scanned copies and some are Large Print. There are too many to list here, but you can see the full inventory on the news section on the front page of the database. The titles cover:

  • Spanish (6 titles)
  • science (8 titles)
  • RME ( 7 titles)
  • Physics (1 title)
  • Physical Education (2 titles)
  • Music (3 titles)
  • Maths ( 11 titles)
  • Classical studies (1 title)
  • Business (4 titles)
  • Biology (5 titles)
  • English (48 titles).


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Best wishes for the SQA 2015 Exams

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 28th April, 2015 at 10:29am

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Best wishes to all learners, parents/carers, teachers, assistants and SQA staff for the 2015 SQA exams which start today! The timetables starts with Drama this morning, Economics this afternoon, and runs until Friday June 5, finishing with High Early Education and Childcare. According to the SQA web site, over half a million exams will be sat during the six-week exam period.

Looking for last-minute advice and inspiration? Try:

If you have any technical questions or queries about using SQA digital exams please remember to visit our web site, or get in touch by phone or email. 

Good luck!


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Talking in Exams Project

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 17th April, 2015 at 1:11pm

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Speech recognition has been around for many years, and many people have tried it without much success. It could be made to work, but often involved a lot of training, time and effort. Today though, computers are much more powerful, speech recognition software is much more accurate and reliable, and we believe it is now a viable option for many more learners.

There has been a lot of interest in speech recognition recently in Scotland, partly because the technology is now more common and better, and partly because of the introduction of the National Literacy assessment, where scribes cannot be used for assessment of writing, but technology, including speech recognition, can.

On 15th January 2015 we held a seminar, supported by SQA, where we discussed the use of speech recognition software in assessments and examinations. You can view a recording of the seminar on CALL's web site: scroll down to 'Speech Recognition in Practice'.

We heard very positive reports about speech recognition from practitioners in East Lothian, Scottish Borders and Stirling, and the participants on the day were keen to continue the conversation and try out speech recognition. So, we thought - how can CALL help?

The Talking in Exams Project is our response, and this is the plan:

Create guidance materials for getting started with speech recognition.

We are creating web pages on the CALL site, with general information covering the SR software and links to tutorials, videos and research. The web pages initially cover Dragon Naturally Speaking, Windows Speech Recognition, WordQ+SpeakQ and Siri on the iPad, but later we will add more for MacOS Dictation, Android and Google Chrome tools. 

Build a community of practice where we can share what works and what doesn’t.

We will organise some more free sessions where we can get together and share experiences. We will set up online collaboration via CALL's web site, and/or via a Glow blog / wiki / Learning Space for project partners to talk and share. We anticipate running these sessions during this term so that work with students can start before the end of term. 

Provide (a limited number of) Dragon and SpeakQ+WordQ licences to schools.

Schools who take part in the project can use the free speech recognition tools built into Windows, MacOS and on tablets, but we also want to include Dragon NaturallySpeaking and WordQ+SpeakQ in the project, so we have a small number of licences for both programs that we can provide free to schools. We anticipate having more schools involved than we have licences and so we will probably choose who gets the software by drawing lots. 

Schools can use one or more of the above, e.g. Dragon NaturallySpeaking on one machine, Windows SR on another, and/or Siri.

Support schools to trial speech recognition software

As well as the web pages, we will organise (free) sessions to introduce the speech recognition tools. We’ll have these on a few dates across the country.

We will suggest a procedure for staff to follow to teach students and record results, possibly based on  Speech Recognition as AT for Writing, by Daniel Cochrane and Kelly Key, or the Speech Recognition Trial Protocol, by Cindy Cavanagh.

Gather and publish case studies / reports.

We hope that participating schools will share case studies or reports on their experiences and we intend to provide an outline format for schools to use to collect information about learners as they learn to use SR. The main question is whether SR is viable for implementation at the end of the trial.


If you are interested in taking part, register an interest by emailing Paul.Nisbet@ed.ac.uk by Thursday April 30th. We will get back to you after this date to discuss next steps. 


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Work at CALL!

By Paul Nisbet on Monday 30th March, 2015 at 4:15pm

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Development Officer - Assistive Technology & Additional Support Needs

As a result of recent and upcoming staff changes, we are looking for a person to come and join the CALL team. This post is full-time and fixed-term until 31st March 2017 - although we hope and expect that funding will continue beyond this date. Secondment is also a possibility. If you would like to discuss the post informally please call Paul on 0131 651 6235 or email Paul.Nisbet@ed.ac.uk

The post details are on TES jobs.

"You will be a qualified teacher with extensive experience working with children and young people with disabilities and/or additional support needs. You will have expertise with specialist assistive technologies.

This post includes elements of research, capacity building, and knowledge exchange in addition to direct work with learners in schools. The post is diverse, exciting and challenging: it involves providing assistive technology assessment and support for learners with additional support needs in schools; developing and delivering Continuing Professional Learning; resource development; and the opportunity to develop projects and developments with schools, local authorities and national agencies. The post is an exciting opportunity to work in a rapidly changing field and to promote and develop good practice in assistive technology, both in Scotland and internationally. The post involves working across Scotland and you will have a car licence and access to a car.

CALL is based in the Moray House School of Education and is funded primarily by the Scottish Government to lead and support the use of assistive and communication technologies by learners with disabilities and/or Additional Support needs."


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A new FREE editor for creating digital prelims, assessments and resources!

By Paul Nisbet on Friday 27th March, 2015 at 4:50pm

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PDFescape is a new browser-based PDF editor with the facility to insert form fields (answer boxes). The free service lets you upload a PDF, do simple editing, add form fields, and then download back to your computer. The PDF can then be accessed by learners on computer using for example Adobe Reader, or on an iPad.

PDFescape has got two significant advantages: it is free, so you don't need to buy a PDF editor such as Acrobat Pro, and since it is browser-based, you don’t need to install any software on your computer.​

Inserting form fields is straightforward but entirely manual – there is no automatic form field recognition as provided by Acrobat Pro. Text, check (tick), radio, list and dropdown fields can all be inserted. There are also some limitations:

  • The answer boxes do not have coloured borders so you cannot give them the red border that is used by SQA on Digital Question Papers. This also means that they are invisible to the user unless the ‘Highlight Existing Fields’ feature is activated by the user in Adobe Reader.
  • The answer boxes do not have a colour fill option – they are transparent so if your PDF has handwriting lines they will show through – unless you use the editor to draw in a white box to cover them up.
  • You have to set the properties of each field when you create it – you can’t set default properties - which is slower than setting default properties for all your fields.

PDFescape looks like a great resource for adding answer boxes to PDFs of classroom resources and internal assessments, but for prelims we think it’s good practice to create papers with red answer boxes like the SQA digital papers, which requires Acrobat Pro or one of the other editors. Also, it lacks a lot of the features of Acrobat Pro, such as scanning and text recognition, editing text, page numbering, setting tab order of answer boxes, etc. Lastly, it doesn't have Accessibility tools and so you cannot ensure that your PDF is accessble to users or, for example, screen readers. 

Verdict: a good tool for making class resources, but we think you need Acrobat Pro or similar for creating prelims. 


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What the Ladybird Heard-Spring has Sprung for Accessible Books!

By Joanna Courtney on Tuesday 24th March, 2015 at 1:13pm

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Now that Springtime seems to be upon us at last, you'll be looking for some suitably 'fresh and lively' reading material for your Young Readers!


Just to remind you that CALL's PowerPoint bookshelf is available for download with links to lots of ready made PowerPoint switch prompt books for you to use with pupils who have a Print Disability


Why not start by downloading 'What the Ladybird Heard,' a fabulous story by Julia Donaldson about a ladybird who spoils the plans of two thieves trying to steal the prize cow from the farmyard!





Download CALL's symbolised 'Shared Reading' resources to accompany the book and enable children with Communication Support Needs to take part fully in the fun. The resources include a printable symbol board (or Go Talk 9+ overlay), Step by Step and Big Mack switch tops and a Vocabulary Sheet with ideas of what vocabulary to use. The Shared Reading set of resources appear near the bottom of the page.






There are also some great teaching ideas and resources to go with this story on the Teaching Ideas website as well as from the Scottish Book Trust's website.


Please also remember that CALL's symbolised resources to accompany ALL the short-listed Bookbug books from this year's Scottish Children's Book Awards, including the 2015 winner Robot Rumpus by Ross Collins and Sean Taylor, can still be downloaded from our website until the end of March.

So download the resources now before time runs out!





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Bright Red to provide digital files for Learners with Print Disabilities

By Paul Nisbet on Thursday 19th March, 2015 at 4:02pm

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We are excited to announce that Bright Red Publishing are the latest Scottish textbook publisher to agree to provide digital copies of their books for the Books for All Database. Bright Red publish Study and Revision Guides for Intermediate, National 5 and Highers and also SQA Past Papers. Over the next few weeks we will be adding their books to the database and we'll list the books on the blog and on the Database News pages as they become available.

This is particularly good timing since the 2015 exams are looming ever closer!

Staff and learners should also check out the free Bright Red Digital Zone. This "is a fully interactive online resource where teachers can find useful information and students can put in that extra effort to help them get the best possible grades". The website has been developed in collaboration with Professor Bill Buchanan at Edinburgh Napier University.


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New books on the Books for All Database

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 18th March, 2015 at 5:08pm

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Rebecca has uploaded some more books from VTSS in Edinburgh to the Books for All Database. Some are scanned copies and some are Large Print. The new books are:




Home Economics 


Modern Studies


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New French books on the Books for All Database from VTSS in Edinburgh

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 3rd March, 2015 at 5:58pm

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Just before Christmas Mary Matson from Edinburgh and Lothians VTSS transcription team kindly gave us over 15,000 files to add to the database.

Rebecca Gow here in CALL, with help from James, a student, have gone through this treasure trove and sorted and edited the files into complete books. Some of the books are beautifully laid out Large Print, whilst others are scanned copies of paper books. The scanned files have been converted into text, but (as you can imagine) we've not had time to proof-read and correct them, so you will find some errors.

Over the next few weeks we will check and upload books for different subjects to the database and post a list of the new titles on the blog and on the Database News page.

The first batch are French books:


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tha e air beagan Gàidhlig?

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 25th February, 2015 at 3:00pm

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We are pleased to report that we have received funding to work with CereProc to develop and license a Scottish Gaelic computer voice for the Scottish public sector. CereProc are a world-class text-to-speech company based in Edinburgh and the Gaelic voice development is funded by The Scottish Government Gaelic and Scots UnitScottish Funding CouncilScottish Qualifications Authority and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

The new Gaelic voice will be available to schools from The Scottish Voice website for the start of the 2015-16 academic session, alongside  Heather and Stuart, which are high quality computer English voices with a Scottish accent. We first licensed Heather from CereProc in 2008 and she was followed by Stuart, in 2011, and they are now used in computers in schools all across Scotland in a variety of ways by learners with additional support needs. For example:

  • students with reading difficulties use the voices to read digital textbooks, assessments or digital exam papers;
  • learners with visual impairment use the voices to read and access the computer screen;
  • pupils who have difficulties with communication use the voices in their electronic voice output aids for personal communication.

By licensing Heather and Stuart nationally, schools and other public agencies are saved the cost of buying the voices or buying computer reader software with high quality voices. We estimate that we have saved Scottish education at least £2 million compared with the cost of schools or local authorities buying the voices commercially. 

However, there is no Scottish Gaelic computer voice available and so Gaelic learners and speakers do not have the same opportunities as Scottish English speakers. The new Gaelic voice will we hope address this.

The Gaelic computer voice will not just benefit learners with disabilities and additional support needs:  anyone who reads Gaelic could find it helpful to read web sites, documents, or to check and proof-read their own letters or emails. The voice will be licensed for use by Scottish schools, colleges, universities, local and national government agencies, NHS units and for use at home by pupils and staff.



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How accessible are your school computers? Are we meeting legal obligations?

By Paul Nisbet on Wednesday 4th February, 2015 at 6:01pm

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On 31 October the Scottish Government published Guidance on “Planning improvements for disabled pupils’ access to education” which "describes the requirements the Act places on education authorities and schools to work to improve the education of disabled learners and to help ensure that they are properly included in, and able to benefit fully from, their school education."

The Guidance contains two appendices that refer specifically to measures that local authorities should take to improve the accessibility of school ICT and computers. It covers things like installing the Scottish computer voices; having text-to-speech software available; providing access to control panels so that students with disabilities can make adjustments to enable access; etc. The document is available here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2014/10/8011.

Now that the guidance is published, it would be helpful to get a snapshot of how accessible school computers are across the country, and what might need to be done to improve the accessibility of ICT used in schools.

To accomplish this, please help us by completing a survey that you can find here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/accessICT.

We know that in some parts of the country, learners have the benefit of readily-available accessibility software and adjustments, but in other schools the provision is not so good. By completing the survey you will help identify areas where improvements might be made. Please also pass the link on to your colleagues.

Many thanks,



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TeeJay books are available on the Books for All Database again

By Paul Nisbet on Tuesday 13th January, 2015 at 10:59am

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Following the incident where a TeeJay book was found available on the internet (see the 7 January blog post), we have modified the wording of the Books for All Database records and we hope that it is clearer and encourages staff to read and understand the terms and conditions.

Tom Strang at TeeJay is happy with the wording and so we have made the TeeJay books available once again. We are very grateful to Tom for his understanding and for allowing us to share his publications, free of charge, so that learners with print disabilities can access them.

You can see all the TeeJay books by clicking here

This is the arrangement:

These accessible copies are made available under the terms of the Copyright Licensing Agency Print Disability Licence to be used only by a learner who is visually impaired or otherwise disabled and by reason of such visual impairment or disability is unable to read or access the original printed book.

Under the terms of the licence you must download or obtain an accessible copy for each learner who needs one. All learners must have a print disability.

By downloading this book I confirm that:

  • I am downloading this book for a learner with a print disability.  I will not supply the book to learners who do not have a print disability.  I will not upload the book to the internet for public access.  
  • I understand that I am legally responsible for the file and for its usage.  
  • I agree to the Books for All Database Terms and Conditions.

Books for All Database Licence Conditions for TeeJay Books

  • The user of this Accessible Digital Copy must have legal access to a print copy of the book, bought either for personal use or as part of a class set.
  • The Accessible Digital Copy should be deleted once the pupil has completed the course for which it was supplied.



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