Scotland’s largest vision impairment charity, Royal Blind, has called for local authorities and the Scottish Government to take urgent action to improve support for blind and partially sighted pupils.
The call comes as Scottish Government figures show there has been a significant increase in the numbers of pupils with vision impairment.
The Scottish Government’s school census figures show an increase in the number of pupils with vision impairment from 2,005 in 2010 to 4,175 in 2016. However Royal Blind understands that over the same period there has been a reduction in the number of specialist teachers for children and young people with vision impairment. The charity is concerned that specialist teachers in vision impairment are facing unreasonable pressures, being asked to support more pupils with less time to do so.
Royal Blind runs the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh and services to support mainstream provision. The charity believes a lack of resources and the current approach to mainstreaming is failing too many vision impaired pupils. The Scottish Government’s consultation on new guidance to schools on mainstreaming closes next week. Royal Blind’s submission argues the way the presumption of mainstreaming is being implemented means that too often vision impaired children feel isolated and do not get the same chances as other pupils. The charity says this is contributing to an education attainment gap, with a third fewer vision-impaired pupils progressing to higher education compared to other pupils.
Mark O’Donnell, Chief Executive of Royal Blind said:
We support blind and partially sighted pupils being educated in mainstream schools where that is right for them, but too often these pupils are being let down. We have learned of instances where pupils have not been able to participate in classes because they are told they are “too visual” or cannot engage in subjects or activities because it is “not safe”. This does not represent real inclusion for these pupils.
Up to 80 per cent of our learning is through our use of vision, therefore, it is vitally important that specialist support is provided for pupils with vision impairment who have a huge learning disadvantage in comparison to their fully sighted peers. More research is required into the numbers of vision impaired pupils in Scotland and their specific needs, but the trend is clear — we have an increasing number of pupils with vision impairment.
That means more resources are needed to support these children, but in fact in many ways there are less. Our highly specialist teachers in vision impairment do a great job, with no additional incentives provided for them to undertake their training. But our understanding is that there are fewer of them, being asked to do more and more.
It has also become increasingly challenging for pupils to secure a placement in the Royal Blind School, even when it has been agreed this would benefit their education. The charity welcomes the Scottish Government’s consultation on the presumption of mainstreaming as it is time to look again at how the policy is working.
Mainstreaming can work for many vision impaired children, but currently too often the right support isn’t there for them. New guidance for schools will be welcome, but it will only be effective if local authorities ensure the right resources are there to make it work.