Key issues for children with vision impairment in 2017

Post date: 
Monday, 12 December 2016
2016 and 2017 written on a school blackboard, with 2016 being erased by the teacher

Editor of Insight Online, Ella High, reached out to some of the key voices in the sector to ask what their concerns are for children and young people with vision impairment in 2017.

Lindsey Rousseau, Facilitator for the National Sensory Impairment Partnership (NatSIP), a partnership of organisations working together to improve outcomes for children and young people with sensory impairment

We know that the Children and Families Act 2014 expects classroom teachers to be the leaders and coordinators of support, but where does this leave the role of specialist teachers for learners with vision impairment (VI) who advise mainstream settings? Education, Care and Health Plans are changing and it is predicted that numbers will reduce over time. We need to make sure students’ needs are provided for.
Funding changes are to be announced by government and the needs of children and young people with VI are considered low incidence and high cost.

On top of that, with the role of local authorities (LAs) and schools changing, and the establishment of multi academy trusts (MATs), commissioning arrangements will also change. How will commissioners learn about the requirements of children with VI?

There are opportunities for parents to take on a greater role in commissioning for their children with VI. To do this, parents will need information about individual budgets, personalised services, etc.
In 2017 life will not necessarily be easier for children and young people with VI, but the specialist knowledge, services and mechanisms to safeguard better outcomes should be in place to help them and their families. We have to remain optimistic – the children we work with deserve it.

Steve Rose, Head of Childrens' Specialist Services at Sense, a national charity that supports people who are deafblind, have sensory impairments or complex needs

The challenge to public funding to support education, health and social care needs will see a further squeeze on the support that many children with sensory impairment (SI) need. As professionals, we have to be open to finding new ways to achieve what we have always done – models of services will have to change, and parents and young people will have to be involved in identifying key priorities.

There are some key policies which support the rights and needs of young people with SI. Where things don’t have a statutory mandate, we will see a tightening of provision as resources simply won’t be there. Areas of risk include early intervention support as well as transition support into adult services.

Unfortunately the public view of charities continues to make it harder to raise funds, which will see pressure on the support provided. Small local charities could struggle without the economies of scale, whereas larger charities are going to struggle to respond locally.
However the shift towards online support, communities and information is huge, as is the impetus for collaboration. I’m excited to see some cross sector developments come to life – in particular the launch of NatSIP’s Sensory Learning Hub as a resource for sensory impairment.

Rory Cobb, Chair of VIEW, the professional association of the vision impairment education workforce

One of the significant challenges is safeguarding levels of support for children and young people with VI in the face of increasing pressure on LA budgets. It seems bizarre that we should have to justify specialist services for children who are so clearly at risk of not achieving their potential without them, but that is a sad reality of the modern world.

We hope the government's plan to extend grammar schools does not go ahead, because evidence indicates that children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) will miss out if they do. The suggestion that grammar schools will drive up standards of education for children with SEND makes no sense when they have so little experience of teaching these children in the first place. In addition, we know that the selection tests used at age 11 are inherently inaccessible to children with severe vision impairment.

We will be monitoring the effect of new GSCE exams on pupils with vision impairment. 2017 is the first time the new courses will be examined fully and we are anxious to see how standards will be affected by students being assessed entirely by exams taken at the end of a two year course.
It’s important we keep the VI education workforce strong through promoting specialist training and the sharing of resources. We know it is getting harder for people to find time and money to update their skills and knowledge, so we need to find smarter ways of ensuring that the children and young people we work with still get the specialist support they deserve. We will also be trying to build up VIEW's membership and capacity to represent our members' interests in an increasingly challenging external environment.

Laura Hughes, parent of a child with vision impairment and Voluntary Group Coordinator at Moorvision, a charity that supports families of children and young people with vision impairment in Devon

There is a “tree” of concern amongst families of children with VI. Branches that should be supporting education, social care, benefits, healthcare and habilitation vary from sturdy branches to twigs that can snap in the slightest breeze.
The education twigs are the thinnest and most common.

Most education of children with VI is a post code lottery of inadequate provision. The lucky few, often at mainstream schools with VI units, fare better, proving annoyingly that it can be done.

Social care and benefits are another post code lottery of direct payments and Disability Living Allowance for some, and nothing for others. Healthcare is a little more robust but still variable and habilitation is slowly improving with its inclusion into the SEN Code of Practice.
But the roots are lacking! There are no compulsory national standards (despite some excellent guidelines from Blind Children UK, RNIB, NatSIP etc.) and until these trees have their roots firmly planted in solid soil, the branches will continue to waver and break.

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