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More classroom support needed for pupils with sight loss

Young people who are blind or partially sighted have backed a call by national sight loss charity RNIB Scotland for the need to train more specialist teachers to provide extra support in mainstream schools

In its manifesto for the May 5th Scottish local authority elections, the charity points to the persistent attainment gap for children and young people with a visual impairment. A 2017/18 pupil census found one in five left school without a qualification at National 4 or higher, compared to only one in 50 among their sighted peers.

RNIB Scotland is urging councils to monitor and improve the ratio of Qualified Teachers of Visual Impairment (QTVIs) to children and young people with sight loss, and provide better incentives for teachers to undertake the additional training required.

Eilidh Morrison (20) from Aberdeen has the sight conditions Retinitis Pigmentosa and Ocular Molar Apraxia. "I have tunnel vision and can only see three per cent in the direct centre of my eye," she says. "I also can't scan left to right, so reading and writing in a line is challenge for me."

Recalling her own experiences at school, Eilidh said, "Before nursery, to round about my fourth year at school, I had an amazing QTVI who helped me with all sorts of things, from learning about what kinds of technology might be useful for me, to learning braille," she said.

"When she left there wasn't really anyone to take over from her. Instead of one person, they gave me three different people who didn't talk to each other. Another big problem was they couldn't read or teach braille, So in my last two years at school I taught myself braille on top of four Highers. That was pretty stressful.

"If we don't have QTVIs it does create a lot of stress. So, I think having more QTVIs to be available for blind students is definitely something we need."

Stephen Asher from Edinburgh has the sight condition hypermetropic myopia, which is corrected by contact lenses. "The best way I describe my eyesight is if you have a camera that goes out of focus and blurry," he says.

Now 24, Stephen also emphasised the difference a specialist teacher made for him. "My experience in school wasn't great," he recalled. "I went through a lot of bullying because of my sight. With the teachers, whenever I needed something enlarged, there would be complaints that they'd have to go out of class. It would always make me feel I was a nuisance or a problem.

"I loved having a specialist teaching assistant. They were always the nicest teachers who knew how to deal with me and how to help me. I didn't have any problems when it came to doing things for my sight, or helping me out with whatever it was.

"Just having someone there to talk to and for support if it ever got too much, or if there was something I was frustrated about. They would calm me down and talk through it."

Tracy Teesdale from Midlothian is the parent of a 15 year-old Luke who is severely sight impaired. She said, "I think it helps the teaching staff to be able to go to somebody who's got experience of someone with sight impairment and be able to say, right we're struggling with this, let's go and ask the QTVI.

"I think it's vital to have this link to ensure that the person who's sight impaired is able to access the curriculum, and that they can help them."

Her son Luke agrees. "I've got support for learning at our school and they've really helped me get back on track and back to classes, and make sure that everything's accessible for me," he said. "I think it's really essential because if you didn't have it it would be really hard for people to support me."

James Adams, director of RNIB Scotland, said, "Every child should be helped to reach their full potential and RNIB and others have launched a specialist visual impairment curriculum framework of resources and materials that teachers can draw on.

"But we also need to ensure that the ratio of QTVIs to school students with sight loss is maintained at a satisfactory level. We want to see increased incentive to become a Qualified Teacher of Visual Impairment, as without this additional support children and young people with vision impairment can struggle to keep up with their sighted peers."