Satellite technology helps special needs pupil travel independently

A 17-year-old Edinburgh special needs pupil has become the first in Scotland to learn to travel to school on his own using satellite technology.

Craig Nibloe, from Pilrig Park School, spent five weeks using the GPS device as he got the bus from his home to school and college.

He can now travel independently without the need for school transport, which allows him to have the opportunity to go to college to complete further education courses.

The City of Edinburgh Council has become the first local authority in Scotland to use the technology to train special needs pupils. Its success builds on previous pioneering Telecare initiatives, which have helped hundreds of older people in the Capital remain independent in their own homes.

And the success could lead to other schools in the Capital using the system. Traditionally special needs pupils are taught self travel by teachers who have to accompany them over an average eight week period as they travel from their homes to school.

However, thanks to the SkyGuard GPS device, the need for staff to accompany them is eliminated and training is completed a lot quicker, with teachers able to train more pupils.

The pupil carries the hand held device whilst the teacher is able to rely on the computer system to tell them the exact location of the pupil, with the added reassurance of two way communication and an SOS facility.

Craig said: "I always wanted to get the bus to school by myself but wasn't able to. I'm really pleased I can now do that on my own and go to college."

Pilrig Park School head teacher Ellen Muir was full of praise for the GPS system. She said: "Self travel training is always time-consuming for our staff but this technology means we can concentrate on those pupils who need a higher level of support and train more children to gain more confidence and become independent.

"One of the biggest pluses is that students need to be able to self travel so they can attend college so now we should have more taking up further education with more career opportunities being opened up."

Ellen also praised one of the school's self travel trainers, learning assistant Bill Lothian, who tutored Craig on his five week trial. She said: "Without Bill's support and enthusiasm for the project help I'm sure Craig wouldn't have made the remarkable progress he did."

Councillor Paul Edie, Health and Social Care and Housing Leader for Edinburgh, said: "This Council has really embraced this new technology, which is transforming people's lives and making a real difference to them. There are hundreds of older people living safely and independently in their homes thanks to Telecare.

"Using this technology to help pupils make their own way to and from school is a natural progression and the amazing progress Craig has made shows how beneficial the system is."

Councillor Marilyne MacLaren, Education Leader for Edinburgh, said: "Learning how to travel independently is so important for these pupils, yet can be challenging and frightening for them. This technology is giving youngsters and their families confidence and security in getting around."

The City of Edinburgh Council has been pioneering Telecare technology in Housing and Health and Social Care areas since 2006, with hundreds of vulnerable and older people in the Capital benefiting.

The system allows vulnerable and older people to remain independent in their own homes, reducing the need for long term care or hospital admission and saving an estimated 3,000 hospital bed days and 3,000 care home days per year.

Devices include sensors and trigger alarms around the home, which alert a care team if the person has a fall, leaves a cooker accidentally on or goes out of the home.

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