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School pupils with sight loss experience attainment gap in qualifications

Blind and partially sighted school children are gaining fewer qualifications than their classmates, prompting calls from a sight loss charity for action to close a ‘shocking and unnecessary gap in attainment’.

In a submission made today to a Scottish Government review of additional support for learning, RNIB Scotland says: “Blind and partially sighted pupils require additional support over the course of their education in order to access the curriculum and achieve the same level as their sighted peers.”

Most of Scotland’s estimated 4,570 pupils with significant sight loss are now educated in mainstream schools. But while only two per cent of pupils with no additional support needs failed to achieve at least one National 4 qualification, the figure was 20 per cent for those with sight loss.

Likewise, while 92 per cent of pupils with no additional needs achieved at least one National 5, only 64 per cent of those with sight loss did. And while 71 per cent with no additional needs achieved at least one Higher, only 40 per cent of those with sight loss did.

But RNIB Scotland insists: “With the right support visual impairment does not have to have an impact on the potential of a pupil to achieve. There is no reason why this attainment gap could not be significantly narrowed if the correct provision is in place.”

However, the charity points to a 2016 survey that found of the 94 teachers in Scottish schools with - or training to obtain – an additional qualification in teaching children with a visual impairment, their median age was 50, meaning many could soon be retiring.

Alarmingly, there is little incentive to encourage more teachers to take the additional qualification needed. Funding, lack of time, and distance from training provision can discourage more teachers from choosing to adopt this specialist role. To compound the problem, there is no extra financial incentive either.

In its submission, RNIB Scotland says: “The Scottish Government should anticipate this potential shortfall and incentivise teachers to obtain the qualification. Incentives could include financial support and time out of class in order to study for the qualification.”

It also urges that more training is given to teachers and classroom assistants generally on how to support pupils with sight loss.

The charity has welcomed a recent £15m funding boost for additional support for learning but remains concerned that local government cuts could still put budgets at risk. “We urge the Scottish Government to produce an additional support for learning attainment gap strategy to close this unnecessary and shocking gap between pupils with a visual impairment and their sighted peers,” it says.