After five weeks of training with a state of GPS device, 16 year old Craig Nibloe can now travel on his own between his Edinburgh home and Pilrig Park School where he is a pupil.
He carries the SkyGuard GPS called a Gemshield which is smaller than the average mobile phone or clips it on to their belt and the teacher can track their exact location on the computer system.
If the pupil gets lost or panics there is the facility on the device to speak to the teacher on a direct line or if they get into danger they can reach the team at SkyGuard by pressing the SOS button.
Activating the SOS button sends the name of the pupil with a photograph and a note of their medical history to the SkyGuard operator who talks to the pupil before making a decision as to whether to involve the emergency services.
Special needs pupils are traditionally taught self travel by their teachers who accompany them on their daily commute for an eight week period.
With the use of SkyGuard GPS the time taken to train a pupil is cut almost in half and there is no need for a staff member to travel with them meaning that teachers can train more pupils.
That means Craig now has more freedom and a greater opportunity to pursue further education courses.
He 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.”
“I want to go to college and when I finish college get a job, maybe as a mechanic or in a shop or just helping people.
“Before I had school transport – but I prefer the normal bus.”
The City of Edinburgh Council is the first local authority in Scotland to use the technology to train special needs pupils and comes at a cost of £25 per month.
Once a pupil has completed their training and they confidently know their route, the device can be passed on to another pupil.
The use of the SkyGuard builds on previous Telecare initiatives in Edinburgh to help older people maintain their independence in the city and reduce the need for long term care or hospital admission.
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.”
SkyGuard is a firm which specialises in personal safety technology, more commonly dealing with firms who have employees working in risky situations.