Resources for the blind piloted

25th September 2009 at 01:00
Children with sight problems in mainstream schools to get curriculum materials for the first time after years of campaigning

Blind and partially sighted children in mainstream schools are to receive textbooks and resources for the first time following a long-standing campaign by charities.

Thousands of curriculum materials will now be available in audio, Braille or large-print format, and pupils will be able to create their own books using new software.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families has taken action after long-standing complaints by teachers and teaching assistants (TAs), who say they have to spend too much valuable time photocopying and enlarging textbooks for children.

Most of the 20,000 children in the UK with severe sight loss are in mainstream schools. Experts say having to rely on homemade resources hinders their educational progress and stops them working with other children.

The new project, which runs from next month until 2011, is part of the DCSF's aim to narrow the attainment gap between pupils with special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities and their peers. It was set up with the cooperation of the Publishing Licensing Society and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

IT firm Dolphin has also been appointed to make software that allows children to choose from a range of textbooks, and then alter the font, or add features such as audio. This allows them to tailor it to their individual needs, and means TAs can spend more time helping them learn. The software will be trialed in a few areas before becoming available around the country.

An RNIB report, Where's my Book?, found a severe shortage of resources in mainstream schools for children with sight problems. In March 2007 the biggest lobbying group of children ever descended on Parliament to discuss the issue with MPs and the DCSF decided to come up with solutions.

Lesley-Anne Alexander, chief executive of the RNIB, said: "Access to basic curriculum materials remains a major issue for many blind and partially sighted pupils. The RNIB knows this because parents, pupils and teachers tell us all the time.

"These children must have the same chances to learn as their sighted classmates. This means getting curriculum materials in the appropriate format at the same time as the rest of the class, so we welcome this project as a crucial step in achieving a solution to the current inequalities."

Kate Harris, chair of the Educational Publishers Council and managing director of the education and children's division of Oxford University Press, said: "It is vitally important that children with print disabilities have the books they need in accessible formats. The outcomes from this will help us all to work together to understand the best ways to meet this objective."

MISSING PIECES

- Many children with sight problems in mainstream schools have, until now, had resources made for them by teaching assistants or teachers, or use a laptop with a Braille reader.

- The RNIB study found those who did want to buy in large-print textbooks had difficulty finding them, particularly in maths and science.

- Around half of those who took part in the RNIB study said the lack of resources had an effect on pupils' social inclusion, and 38 per cent said it affected educational progress.

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