Campaign demands more support for blind pupils

Concerns grow that a shortage of specialist teachers in Scotland is harming vision-impaired pupils' chances of success

Henry Hepburn

Campaign demands more support for blind pupils

A new campaign is demanding more support for vision-impaired pupils amid concerns over falling numbers of specialist teachers.

The Our Vision for Equal Education campaign by Royal Blind, Scotland’s largest vision-impairment charity, points out that this has coincided with a growing number of children in Scotland’s schools who are vision-impaired.

The charity, which runs the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh, is calling for:

  • A Scottish government action plan to recruit and retain specialist teachers.
  • A new SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) training qualification in vision impairment for education support staff and others, including those providing care and therapy.
  • “Effective transitions” for vision-impaired young people.
  • A “fair and pupil-centred placement system” for vision-impaired young people.

The charity has also conducted a survey of specialist teaching staff that showed many were concerned about a lack of resources and believed  there were too few specialist teachers working in Scotland’s schools.

Royal Blind chief executive Mark O’Donnell said: “Research has shown that up to 80 per cent of learning takes place through our vision, which is why additional support for pupils who are blind and partially sighted is so important.”

He said the education system must respond to a growing demand for support, citing Scottish school census figures showing that the number of pupils with vision impairment had more than doubled, from 2,005 in 2010 to 4,331 in 2017.

A 2012 study by the Scottish Sensory Centre (SSC) reported there were 88 “qualified teachers of children and young people with vision impairment” (QTVIs) working in local authorities for 2,019 vision impaired pupils. A second SSC study in 2016 found 65 QTVIs working for 4,177 pupils.

Mr O’Donnell added: “Our vision for equal education is that all vision-impaired pupils receiving the specialist support they need to succeed, whether that be in mainstream or a specialist setting like the Royal Blind School.”

National figures for 2016-17 showed 88.8 per cent of pupils with vision impairment progressed to higher education, training or employment, compared with 94.9 per cent of pupils without additional support needs.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "Children and young people should learn in the environment which best suits their needs, whether that is in a mainstream or special school setting. There is a range of provision in place in Scotland to meet the wide range of children and young people’s needs. 

“To support training for teachers of the visually impaired, the Scottish government provides £150,000 annual grant funding to the Scottish Sensory Centre to provide high-quality, career-long professional learning.”

He added that the government was working to implement recommendations from the Scottish Parliament's education committee on the attainment of pupils with sensory impairment, and had provided a progress update in March.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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