Following major cuts to spending on educational support services for children and young people with vision impairment, 700 service users have witnessed a reduction in their level of support since 2016 and many are struggling to gain access to the right services. Case studies consistently show that a lack of appropriate support can severely restrict these students in reaching their full potential.
John, 16, has the progressive sight condition retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Over the course of his education, the support John has received has been varied and inconsistent. For many years, John felt his teachers didn’t understand his vision impairment or how it impacted his learning. He received no support from a teaching assistant until year 10 and has often not received learning materials in his preferred format. John said: “I need print materials in a size 24 font, but this was often not provided. I didn’t do as well as I expected in one of my exams, as I lost marks in the coursework side because I couldn’t access the learning materials.”
In contrast; Michael, 15, from Gateshead who has Leber Congenital Amaurosis, began to receive regular specialist support from a Special Education Needs Assistant when he started school, and he went onto learn braille. He has access to specialist equipment, receives regular one-to-one support from a specially trained teaching assistant and has also had mobility training to help him navigate around his school.
Michael is excelling in school and has already passed his Computer Science GCSE and BTEC Media with high grades. He sat and passed these exams at 14 years old, meaning he qualified a year earlier than usual. His mum, Joanne, directly credits the SEN (Special Educational Needs) support received by Michael, as the key to his educational success.
RNIB’s sight loss data tool tells us that there are an estimated 34,500 children and young people aged 0 – 25 in England who are living with a vision impairment (VI). Teachers rarely work with children who have vision impairment during their career but when they do, these children have specific needs and require individual support to help them with their education.
Qualified Teachers of Visual Impairment (QTVIs) play an integral role of helping with development in early years, with a particular focus on teaching braille, and teaching the skills needed to access information independently. Qualified Habilitation Specialists (QHSs) also help with mobility and independent living skills, for example travel to and from school and developing social skills.
If the necessary changes are made to provide more quality, tailored support in education for children and young people with vision impairment, they would be far more able to keep up with their peers and access valuable opportunities like Michael is. Chrissie said:
Ensuring the right support is there for every child and young person that needs it, and making sure that it fits the needs of each individual child, can ultimately lead to more vision impaired young people reaching their full potential.
This is also why RNIB has campaigned around the educational support of children and young people with vision impairments, working with the Young Vision Alliance to produce the ‘Our Futures Matter’ report.
This is an extract from the article 'Teaching kids with visual impairment' published in the July-August 2019 edition (issue 101) of Sen Magazine.