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Schoolchildren with sight loss are at risk of falling behind during lockdown, warns RNIB

The shift to remote school learning during lockdown could put children with vision impairment at risk of falling further behind, the national sight loss charity RNIB has warned.

The Scottish Government’s Pupil Census 2017 revealed that there were 4,331 school pupils with a visual impairment in Scotland.

Many depend on specialist face-to-face support from Qualified Teachers of Visual Impairment (QTVIs), assistive equipment and adapted learning resources, such as audio and braille materials.

But with schools now relying heavily on online and remote learning during lockdown, these children can be left particularly disadvantaged without practical, hands-on experience.

The charity’s warning comes after a report into the provision for visually impaired children during the first lockdown. The findings published by VIEW, the professional association of the vision impairment education workforce, revealed that one in four QTVI’s felt at risk of being redeployed to other roles. Overall, says, RNIB, there is lack of clarity and consistency about how their specialist input should be maintained.

The 2017/18 pupil census already shows that the attainment gap between students with a visual impairment and their peers with no additional support needs is stark:

Only one in 50 pupils with no additional support needs left school without a qualification at National 4 level or higher, compared to one in five with sight loss.

92 per cent of pupils with no additional needs achieved at least one qualification at National 5, compared to 64 per cent of those with a visual impairment.

71 per cent of pupils with no additional needs achieved at least one Higher, compared to only 40 per cent of those with sight loss.

Caireen Sutherland, principal education officer at RNIB, said: “Many children and young people with vision impairment need direct specialist teaching support. What we saw in the first lockdown was that children with vision impairment didn’t always get the face-to-face interactions they needed and their virtual support was being affected or limited.

“On top of this, many parents and carers were being put in the difficult position of trying to help their children learn without the necessary specialist equipment or materials to do so. Although there is good practice, this isn’t consistent and there could still be children that will be negatively impacted by this lockdown.”

RNIB is providing a range of support, information, advice, events and training to families and professionals who are supporting children and young people with vision impairment. There is a new online advice session for parents, which covers topics such as technology and homeschooling, as well as online play, craft and story sessions for children with vision impairment.

In its manifesto for the Scottish Parliament election this May, RNIB Scotland is calling for an annual report on the attainment figures for blind and partially sighted school pupils, for investment in training more QTVIs as a matter of urgency, and greater incentives for teachers to complete QTVI training.

To speak to one of RNIB’s Family Support Officers for information, advice or guidance, email [email protected] or call RNIB’s Helpline on 0303 123 9999.