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Skyguard and the City of Edinburgh Council Pioneers New Initiative to Help Pupils with Special Needs Travel Independently

Student holds Skyguard personal alarm

Skyguard is pleased to be working with the City of Edinburgh Council in implementing a pioneering initiative to help school pupils with special needs. The Independent Travel Scheme aims to give hundreds of students the opportunity to travel independently without the need for school transport, which allows them the chance to go to college to complete further education courses and build a career.

Back in late 2010, the council began trialling Skyguard’s service with two young students from Pilrig Park School. By carrying the GEMshield personal safety device, the students were able to travel to and from school without direct supervision. Traditionally special needs pupils are taught self travel by teachers who have to accompany them over an average eight week period. However, thanks to the GEMshield device, the need for staff to accompany them is eliminated and training is completed a lot quicker, with teachers able to train more pupils.

Craig Nibloe, one of the first students to trial this scheme 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.”

How the Pioneering Scheme Works

The pupils carry the pocket-sized device whilst the teacher is able to rely on Skyguard’s online customer portal to pinpoint their location. The device can also be used as mobile phone allowing pupil and teacher to call each other. An SOS button provides vital backup in an emergency, allowing trained controllers at Skyguard’s 24/7 Incident Management Centre to immediately locate the student, talk to him if it’s safe to do so, and follow their personalised escalation procedures such as contacting the teacher, family members or the emergency services as appropriate.

Now, the City of Edinburgh Council’s aim is to give the same freedom and independence to every special needs pupil across the city. By creating the Independent Travel Scheme, the Council, in collaboration with Skyguard is helping many students enjoy the same freedom.

Praise

Pilrig Park School head teacher Ellen Muir was full of praise for the Skyguard solution. 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.”

Linda Ellis, the mother of Peter, one of the students, went on to praise the initiative. “I feel as though it’s made a huge difference to his life. It’s made Peter more confident and aware that he can use the device to get in touch with people. Without it, I don’t think he would have been as confident.”

Bill Lothian, a Learning Assistant from Edinburgh has spearheaded the campaign for greater independence for special needs students. Bill works directly with the pupils and has already tutored them as part of the Initiative. Bill said, “To witness first-hand how this has benefitted the students is truly overwhelming. Travelling on our own is something we take for granted, but this wasn’t possible for these youngsters. However, thanks to Skyguard, they’ve been given the freedom to do so and now they feel so much more confident in themselves as to what they can achieve.”

Cost-Savings

Previously, the Council were spending over £8 million per year on helping pupils across the city travel to school. With this new initiative in place, the cost savings are set to be substantial – crucial at a time when public sector spending is constantly being squeezed.

And it doesn’t stop there. As City of Edinburgh Councillor Paul Edie states “We have also received a huge amount of interest in this initiative from other Councils and are working with a number of them to deploy similar schemes across the UK.”

This groundbreaking scheme was documented in the national press and featured on Scottish TV News. You can see their report here.