ACE Centre

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An ACE Centre (Aiding Communication in Education) is a centre for assisting the education of children with complex disabilities. Two such centres exist in Great Britain.

Brief outline[edit]

The ACE Centres provide a child centered, multidisciplinary, independent assessment, advice and training service to the parents and carers of children with complex disabilities who require assisted/augmented communication aids in order to communicate and to learn.

To this end they influence the development of new products which meet the needs of children and young people who need assistive technology in order to communicate and to learn. They also seek to influence policy makers and funding organisations with regard to the importance of inclusive policies and standards for children and young people with communication difficulties to enable them to achieve enhanced quality of life through access to education.

They also work in R&D partnerships with equipment and software manufacturers and suppliers, concentrating on children and young people and the enhancement of their access to education.

The ACE Centres are based in Oxford and Oldham, and provide assessment services to England and Wales and are non-profit making independent organisations with charitable status.

The Centres employ qualified and experienced teachers, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, and assistive technologists.

The Centres involves the child and their family, local therapists, carers and teaching staff in the assessment process, and provides a platform for these individuals to meet and discuss issues concerning the welfare of the child face to face and in a relaxed yet focused forum.

Employees of the Centres are involved in research and development programmes both within the UK and the EU, ensuring that new technology is centred on the user. This in turn ensures that the staff benefit from opportunities for continual professional development.

The Centres operates a loan bank which means that any individual child together with their parents and carers can try out specialist equipment.

The Centres provides a comprehensive range of professional training options, information services and networking opportunities to carers and parents to support and inspire them, recognising that their input is an essential component in creating successful outcomes for the children.


The first ACE Centre was started in 1984 through UK government funding as part of the new initiative to introduce information technogy into schools in England and Wales following the end of the Micro-Electronics Project MEP. During MEP four Special Education Micro-technology Resource Centres (SEMERCs) were set up in London (Redbridge), Manchester, Bristol and Newcastle. A special education software development centre was also established in Manchester. It was felt that those pupils with severe language or physical disabilities required more specialist support.

This idea for the first ACE centre to support these students came from Tim Southgate (Head of Ormerod Special School) and Prue Fuller, a teacher at the school. They were inspired by the computer research of Patrick Poon at the school. The original staff at the opening of the Centre in May 1984 were Prue Fuller (Director), Andrew Lysley (SEN Teacher), David Colven (Technical Officer) and Pauline Paine (Administrator). The Centre was managed by Mary Hope at MESU, a post that was later taken over by Tina Detheridge now of Wigit Software.

It was essentially a project under the management of MESU (Micro Electronics Support Unit) a government quango which later merged with CET (Centre for Educational Technology) to become NCET (the National Centre for Educational Technology). This eventually became Becta (British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) in 1998.[1]

In 1985 a second Centre was opened in Oldham at Park Dean School It was managed by the head teacher Rhys Williams, who later became principal of Hereward College, and Roger Bates (now of Inclusive Technology). The first Director proper of ACE Oldham as it was then was Steve Broadbent. The two Centres in Oldham and Oxford service the north and south of England and Wales respectively.


Location The ACE Center was housed in a spare classroom at Ormerod special school in Headington, Oxford . Later it moved to temporary buildings on the same site and remained there until the new 'Wooden Spoon' building was erected on Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre site in 1998. The new 'Wooden Spoon' building was largely funded by the Wooden Spoon Society[2] and was officially opened by Princess Anne in April 1999. The new building has custom build facilities for assessment and training.

Staff The ACE Centre needs a range of expertise to be able to assess and support the clients it is involved with. It has occupational therapists, speech and language Therapists, special needs and mainstream teachers, assistive technology specialists and support staff. Early members of staff were Caroline Gray (occupational therapist), Gillian Hazell (the Nelms, Speech and Language Therapist) and Mark Saville (web page and publications creator).

Prue Fuller retired as director in 1999 and was later awarded an MBE for her services to Assistive and Alternative Communication. She was also bi-annual president of ISAAC 1998 - 2000. Caroline Grey became director of the ACE Centre following Prue's retirement until she retired in 2007. Liz Tapper took over as temporary director until September 2008 and Dr Ben Janubi has been in post since January 2009.[3]

The CAP Project This was a government initiative to boost the support and provision of communication aids to school students.[4] The ACE Centres were two of the organisations involved with assessment for this project.[citation needed] It initially had a two-year timetable and a £10M budget but was extended for a further two years on the same funding basis. During this time the staffing in the centre increased considerably to cope with the assessment demand.

European projects

The Centre has a long history of collaboration with DART [1] in Gothenburg, Sweden[citation needed] and has cooperated on a number of research project over the years. These include: Comspec[citation needed], PCAD,[5] WWAAC (World Wide Augmentative and Alternative Communication Project) [6][7] and recently CoGain (Communication by Gaze Interaction) [8][9] and ÆGIS [10][11]

Software developments[edit]

The first software developments at the ace centre was to re-write Sentence Scan and Start-Write for the increasingly popular BBC Micro. Sentence scan was a switch or keyboard accessible sentence builder with speech support. Sentences could be built up from sets of stored words or phrases. Start-Write was a letter/keyboard based program with speech support and sophisticated user support configurations. Staff from the Centre also contributed to the design of the programs such as 'Prompt Writer' and 'Concept', being created by the Special Needs Software Centre based at the Manchester SEMERC managed by Dave King.

The advent of the IBM compatible computer lead to more graphics based programs being developed for switch users such as 'Plocka' (Swedish for 'pick up'). Plocka has facilities for creating sorting and matching scenarios for switch users and has a built in graphics library.

  • AccessMaths is a program developed for students that need to create geometric drawings but cannot manipulate a mouse. Users can use a laptop keyboard only to produce accurate and detailed mathematical constructions and drawings. Switch users can also manipulate the program via programs like 'The Grid 2' and 'SAW' (see below). It was originally developed on the BBC Master computer but later versions were created for use in Windows 3 and later. The current version is version 4 which is available in English, Swedish and French. Number Navigator is also a maths based utility which enables students to do 'sums' within a formatted grid.
  • SAW (Special Access to Windows) is a program that was created from a grant from the then Department of Trade and Industry to enable switch users to manipulate mathematical equations on screen. It was quickly realised that creating a programmable scanning on-screen keyboard for Windows (version 3 at the time,) the full functionality of what they were hoping to create - and much more - could be realised by using other programs such as 'MathType'. These programmable on-screen keyboards (selection sets) are now available for a number of very different applications. SAw 5 is now an open source program available from the Oatsoft web site.
  • Hotspots - This program has similar user characteristics to SAW, but is designed for point and click environments. In addition to scanning user defined spots on the screen it can annotate these with sounds, images and text. It is easy to make simple software switch accessible.


The ACE Centre has published a number of reviews, guides, and 'how to' documents over the years. as well as contributing articles to conferences and peer reviewed journals. The main forum for disseminating out work is increasingly through the web site but they regularly give papers at the ISAAC conference and at "Communication Matters", the UK branch's annual conference.


The Oxford centre's website says that it is owned by the ACE Centre Advisory Trust, Charity No 1040868, Registered Company No 2961300[12]

The ACE Centre North's website says that it is Registered Charity No 1089313.[13]


  1. ^ ACE Centre: History of the ACE Centre. (Source for part of the "Founcation" section.)
  2. ^ Wooden Spoon: Project History.
  3. ^ ACE Centre: Staff Profiles (incomplete source).
  4. ^ Teach Training Resource Bank: Evaluation of the Communication Aids Project[permanent dead link].
  5. ^ FAST: PCAD - Portable Communication Assistant for people with acquired Dysphasia
  6. ^ WWAAC
  7. ^ ACE Centre: WWAAC.
  8. ^ CORDIS / ISTweb / Projects : Communication by Gaze Interaction (COGAIN) - IST Project Factsheet
  9. ^ ACE Centre: CoGain.
  10. ^ ÆGIS: Consortium.
  11. ^ ACE Centre: AEGIS.
  12. ^ "Copyright and Legal Information". ACE Centre. Retrieved 16 August 2009. 
  13. ^ "ACE Centre North". Retrieved 16 August 2009. 

External links[edit]