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Reflections of school: young people with vision impairment speak out

Since 2010, researchers at the University of Birmingham have been tracking 80 young people with vision impairment (VI) from England and Wales through transition from school into college, university, training and/or employment.

In the latest report, research participants – who are now aged between 19 and 22 – were asked to think back to their experiences of school and transition and how well prepared do they think they were for the move from school into other types of educational settings, training, and employment, and into independent adulthood.

How well did school prepare young people for transition?

There were mixed views on how well the participants felt they had been prepared for transition from school. Some observed that while at the time of transition they had felt well prepared, the reality of life outside school had been quite different to their expectations. Specialist support had been harder to access than they had anticipated, and/or they had lacked important independent learning, advocacy, and mobility skills.

Skills young people with vision impairment needed for successful transitions

It was having the skills and experience to be independent, along with the ability to self-advocate, that were the key factors in whether a young person felt they were prepared for the challenges that many of them experienced following transition.

It was also evident that the participants who left school without good independent learning, mobility and self-advocacy skills were far less resilient and less able to cope than those who did have these skills.

  • “[I was] not prepared at all! [School] doesn’t prepare you at all for university, it is a sheltered environment where A-levels are basically box-ticking and teachers are like just dictating to you what you need to know. The moment you get to uni, literally… you aren’t exactly a duck out of water, but you sit there.”
  • “I was taught how to stand up for myself, I was taught how to assert myself, and I was taught to some extent what my rights were and that kind of thing, particularly at the school level...”
  • “[School] didn’t help with confidence or independence. They thought education was enough.”
  • “[Mobility training]...was very helpful, it boosted my confidence, even now when I don’t know where I am going I feel more confident because I know I can do it if I concentrate.”

Information needs

The research also found that many participants had left school not knowing about their rights and the different types of support and funding available to them, or how to navigate this support. For example, Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), the Access to Work scheme or specialist careers advice. Positive accounts came from participants who had received specific transition support, such as through careers services or transition officers.

  • “I guess the one thing that I wasn’t really prepared for is that… I wasn’t really properly told how to apply for DSA straight away, so that was an issue in the first year, trying to get all of that sorted out and it was hard to get processed. I didn’t know where to go to get the evidence I needed.”
  • “Very, very, very prepared. I had support from Connexions people. They offered me help in terms of career pathways. That definitely helped, that’s why I chose the course I did at college.”

The role of education providers

It is the responsibility of education providers to make sure that as well as having good academic qualifications, students leave school equipped with the skills needed to make a successful transition to independent adulthood. This is made clear in the Department for Education’s (DfE) ‘Preparing for adulthood outcomes’ toolkit and the principles apply to post-school education providers too. Even confident young people with good independence and self-advocacy skills have not been prepared for the lack of inclusive practice in some further and higher education institutions identified in this study.

What are we doing with all this evidence?

Information needs

We have listened to what young people have told us about the information they need at the time of transition and with funding from DfE and the National Sensory Impairment Partnership (NatSIP) developed detailed guidance on going to university.

We are working with young people to create resources that can be used by VI services and schools to deliver transitions workshops for young people with vision impairment. We will also be updating RNIB’s current online transitions guidance and downloadable ‘Bridging the Gap’ guide for England.

Training for young people

We are sharing the research findings with professionals who support young people with VI so they understand the importance of teaching independence skills. For example, through the mandatory training for qualified teachers of children and young people with vision impairment (QTVI), and the ‘Learner Outcomes Framework’ which we have helped develop for NatSIP.

We have also shared the research findings on young people’s experiences of university with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator in Higher Education, which is the independent body set up to review individual student complaints and they are developing a good practice framework in supporting disabled students in higher education.

Acknowledgements to funders

This research couldn’t have taken place without the support of our funders. Phase One took place from October 2009 to March 2012 and was funded by RNIB. Phase Two took place from April 2012 to March 2015 and was funded by the Nuffield Foundation with practical support from RNIB. Lastly, Phase Three is currently being funded by Thomas Pocklington Trust with continued practical support from RNIB.