AV1 robots help children stay connected to class

A special needs teacher has spoken out about the benefits of a robot designed to help long-term absent children back into the classroom.

Three Avatars sitting on Southend pier on a sunny day

Petra Verkooijen, special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO), at Hamstel Infant School said the AV1 robots have made a huge difference to one pupil and his classmates.

She contacted the council to ask about medical tuition for a reception student who was scheduled to be off school for a long period of time for medical reasons, and was told about the AV1s.

She said: “It was suggested and sounded like a possible solution, as the child was in reception and still developing friendships, the inclusive element of the AV1 was really appealing.

“We had a meeting with mum, health professionals and the council, where everything was explained in detail and a joint decision was made to give it try. We contacted those parents in the class who had not given consent for their child’s image to be used, and they were incredibly supportive of using the AV1 and gave their permission.

“So, when the pupil had the energy during recovery, they were able to join in with lessons from home and absolutely loved the fact they could speak to their peers through the robot, move it around and show expressions on the robot’s face.

“It helped enormously, and the student is exactly where they should be academically. They will have to take some more time off soon for medical reasons and when we spoke to the hospital, the consultant was really impressed with the plans we had in place with the AV1.”

Another parent has also shared their experience with the AV1. The parent, who wishes to remain anonymous to protect her child, explains how due to having complex needs created by a long-term medical condition, her son misses not only school, but his friends.

She said: “There are times when he is just too tired with a simple cold to access the classroom or others where he is in hospital but able to learn and this is when the AV1 really takes centre stage. 

“Sometimes, it can be just a simple call-in during break time or lunch time so that he can say “hi” to his friends to keep in touch, but it can also be used to take part in a lesson the teacher may be delivering. 

“It’s a unique feature for our son’s education, because it does not require him to show where he is, but he can still communicate with his class, with his teachers and his friends. It has really helped our son overcome the isolation he previously felt during periods of illness and has made the return to school so much easier because it doesn’t feel as though he has “been away” for so long.”

The AV1s were introduced by Southend-on-Sea City Council back in 2019 and after a successful pilot and following on from the pandemic, more robots have been made available.

Teachers can contact the education access team if they think a student would benefit from using one.

Cllr Helen Boyd, cabinet member for children’s services, education and learning, said: “There has been a lot in the national media lately about school attendance but for some children they want to be in the classroom but simply can’t, for physical, mental or emotional reasons.

“The AV1 is an excellent tool that we can use in long-term situations, and when it’s felt appropriate, to stop those children feeling isolated from their friends and school-life. It also makes the transition between being at home and the school, so much easier.

“It’s not the only solution for support we have at our disposal but as every child and every set of circumstances is different, I think it's sensible to have several options to try. And while there is so much attention on the attendance of children at school, it’s good that we have these positive accounts of how using an AV1 can benefit children and keep them in touch with their friends.”

Published: 17th November 2023

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