A special educational needs teacher turned author is writing his own success story after signing a major publishing deal.
Pete Wells, a SEN teacher at Catcote Futures in Hartlepool, has signed a deal with global special needs company Inclusive Technology to launch an online library of his ‘sensory’ stories.
The result is ‘Inclusive Stories’, an online collection of specialist sensory tales, which in just a few months after release is being used in thousands of SEN schools and organisations in 21 countries worldwide.
A teacher of 25 years, Pete had always held a passion for writing and spent the bulk of his career writing stories for his own students and distributing them to others online, free of charge.
It wasn’t until last year however that he decided to set up his own business, Pete Wells Sensory Stories, to help refine his stories and – putting his experience to good use – help improve the education experience for people across the globe with special educational needs.
“Sensory stories have been established as a way of learning for a lot of years, but I found a lot of the stories to be quite childish and not very exciting. The teenagers I was teaching at the time certainly seemed to agree with me too. As necessity is the mother of invention, I began writing my own,” he explained.
“This was around 20 years ago and the internet was just coming into schools, so my stories were produced and crudely animated in PowerPoint, meaning they were easy to share and could be accessed and controlled by those with severe accessibility challenges via specialist switches.
“For example, some of the students I work with can’t move or speak, so they require specialist switches to allow them to access and ‘tell’ a story at their own pace and using technology has enabled us to do this. It has really revolutionised how we teach students.”
The success of Pete’s early work caught the eye of Inclusive Technology, a world leading provider of assistive technology, which invited him to pitch some of his story ideas to them, as well as a model for delivery.
The concept and stories were such a success that the company agreed a deal for Pete to publish over 70 interactive sensory stories, with 23 now in circulation. Each story is professionally animated and narrated and the learner can ‘tell’ the story using a mouse, a specialist switch, a swipe of their finger or even by moving their eyes.
“It was hugely important to me that the kids could become the storytellers,” said Pete. “It is extremely empowering for them, especially when many have such significant barriers to communication or accessing the world. It’s truly magical.
“The sensory experiences that the stories provide help students learn more about the world around them too and support language development as they learn to respond to different stimuli. Sensory play encourages learning through exploration, curiosity, problem solving and creativity.
“For every story, I also write a comprehensive brief on how to make it sensory and explain how to deliver the story to kids of vastly different abilities or with different needs.”
Pete designs his stories to help his audience engage with a variety of important or sensitive issues, by breaking down complex topics in a way that everyone can understand.
Having no previous business experience, Pete approached the North East BIC for support prior to setting up Inclusive Stories.
The support of an expert business adviser and a £1,000 grant allowed him to get the business off the ground, understand all of the legalities and purchase the equipment required to start producing his multi-media tales.
He said: “Because I’m a teacher, I’m a very, very poor businessperson. In education, especially when you are working with such special learners, it is very easy to just give everything away, which is what I’d done all my career. I’d been writing stories for over 20 years and just giving them away.
“The BIC taught me how to be more business-like, keep things a little closer to my chest, to understand the true value of my time and experience and how to best share this with my colleagues. They’ve advised on contracts and helped me register everything to ensure that my business is above board.
“They’ve even helped me learn more about IP which has helped me protect my creations too. They’ve been a real help.”
Inclusive Stories has also been shortlisted for the best ‘SEND Resources, Products and Services’ award at the global Bett Awards, a celebration of ‘the creativity and innovation that can be found throughout technology for education.’
Gillian Middleton, Business Support and Innovation Manager at the North East BIC, said: “It’s been an absolute pleasure working with Pete on his business journey so far.
“To see his stories captivating audiences across the globe and helping improve the education for thousands of children in just under a year is remarkable and we can’t wait to see how the business grows from here.”