Post-14 transitions support - visiting teacher services

Title: Post-14 transitions support – a survey of visiting teacher services for blind and partially sighted students

Authors: Rachel Hewett, Dr Graeme Douglas: Visual Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research (VICTAR), Publisher: RNIB, Year of publication: 2010

Background

This is a report commissioned by RNIB in relation to post-16 transitions from school into further and higher education, training and employment of blind and partially sighted students. The research project was designed in 2009 by a team from RNIB and VICTAR (Visual Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research, at the University of Birmingham) in response to the Research Brief prepared by RNIB Corporate Research Team: “Longitudinal study from age 14 of blind and partially sighted young people in the UK”. The research started in May 2009 and is being carried out in three phases of work:

  • Phase 1 – Recruitment and survey of education services.
  • Phase 2 – Survey of young people with vision impairment.
  • Phase 3 – Longitudinal case studies.

Key findings

Post-16 transition policies and links

  • Some local authorities appear to have more developed policies in relation to post-16 transition support than others, although some VTS draw upon more general policies, rather than having visual impairment specific ones.
  • The level of reported partnership with Connexions differs across the VTS, with Connexions Officers attending annual review meetings for students with visual impairment students more regularly in some local authorities than others. On the whole, Connexions Officers are more likely to attend annual review meetings for students with statements (compared to students without statements). The level of contact that the VTS have with Connexions outside of the annual review meetings also seems to vary between the different local authorities. The Resource Bases and Special School all have Connexions Officers linked to their school (and consequently report greater level of contact). The amount of input given by VTS in the production of the Learner Support Plan appears to differ across the local authorities, although they will offer greater advice for those students with a statement. The advice VTS give tends to be specific to the students needs, such as mobility training, and information for sitting exams. It is rarer, however, for VTS to provide written contributions to the Learner Support Plan.

Statements, annual review and transition planning

  • Given the range of approaches to statementing, the term ‘annual review’ appears ambiguous – ‘annual review’ can be taken to mean the statutory review associated with the statement of SEN, or something more general which would include, for example, reviews of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) or target setting. Nevertheless, representatives from the VTS report attending annual reviews for most students with a statement, but are less likely to attend for those without a statement. Similarly, Connexions officers are reported to attend annual reviews less frequently, particularly for non-statemented students. Staff from the resource bases and special school report always being in attendance at an annual review, along with the Connexions Officers attached to the schools. Transition plans are formal written records which aim to ‘plan coherently for the young person’s transition into adult life’ (Special Educational Needs Code of Practice). Over 80 of the services reported that transition reviews are typically held as part of the annual review meeting for Year 9, 10 and 11 students with a statement, but the practice varies a lot more for those without a statement. The students at both resource bases and the special school (all of whom had statements) would usually have their transition review as part of the annual review meeting. Most VTS give input in the preparation of transition plans, in particular for those with statements (although policies differ between the local authorities). The majority also reported that they found the transition plans useful in delivering their service. Overall, the VTS reported they were confident in their level of involvement in transition planning for students with visual impairment with a statement, but only 50 are confident in their level of involvement for those students without a statement. Perhaps this is unsurprising because students with statements have a statutory entitlement to specialist support in relation to transition planning, including access to services from other agencies (e.g. Connexions). Given this, is access to this specialist transition support limited for non-statemented students with a visual impairment in authorities with a ‘low-statementing policy’? Follow-up discussions with some heads of service with a ‘low-statementing policy’ indicate that in these authorities the statement is not a factor in a student’s ability to access these services, although it is necessary for the VTS to work proactively with schools and other agencies to ensure that this is the case.

Work placements

  • Experience of work though work placements is useful for students with visual impairments in helping them make decisions about their future and the transition from education into paid employment. Those students linked to a VTS or Resource Base were highly likely to have a work placement at some point between Year 9 and 11. However, this was reported as less certain for those attending the single special school involved in the survey.
  • However, the VTS reported that finding suitable work placements for their students with visual impairment was difficult. Also the level of support provided by the different VTS in terms of work placements varied, with some having much more involvement than the others. Similarly, the range of career activities (e.g. links and visits to FE and sixth form colleges, careers fairs/conventions and links with voluntary work) that are available to Year 9 to 11 students appears to differ according to where they are located.

Other support and advice

  • Several of the VTS report being involved in providing support and advice to the other services involved in supporting students with visual impairment. Advice is given, in particular, to FE or HE Staff. The advice given ranges from advice and support regarding specific young people, to general advice and support including awareness training.

General reflections about the quality of the services and other comments

  • There appears to be a consensus amongst VTS respondents that the transition support for students with visual impairment could be improved, particularly by Connexions and the local mainstream school. Similarly, many suggest that the quality of links between agencies (VTS-Connexions links in particular) needs to be improved. Several of the services highlighted the potential problems of young people moving onto larger post-16 colleges, where the support that they are entitled to is less clearly defined.