It is disheartening to hear of the very negative educational experience endured by Gemma Mackintosh, as highlighted in The TESS last week. It is difficult enough for any young visually-impaired person to come to terms with their sight loss and to deal with the constant barriers placed in their path on a daily basis. But, to encounter a system which fails to address the difficulties of accessing the curriculum and does not ensure that the young visually-impaired learner has the skills necessary to thrive in modern Scotland is a sad indictment of us all.
Some local authorities are ensuring that many blind and partially-sighted children are achieving their potential by providing appropriately-trained specialist support staff and resources to meet their individual needs, in mainstream and special schools. This, however, is not the case in many areas, as Gemma's personal experience highlights.
The current crop of teachers of the visually impaired are predominantly 50-plus, with many nearing retirement age, and this is an issue which needs to be urgently addressed if we are to deliver the highest level of provision in the future. Many qualified teachers are not opting to re- train into visual impairment for a variety of reasons. Some local authorities suggest that those who choose to study for the postgraduate diploma in visual impairment will have to self-fund in the future. Where is the incentive in that?
This is exacerbated by the chartered teacher programme which, for many experienced teachers, is a more attractive route to a rewarding career with financial benefits to boot. Local authorities are also limiting the training of teachers for the visually impaired, blaming the cost of staff cover. This will only become more difficult as we enter a new age of austerity.
If we are to ensure that young, visually-impaired people leave school as confident, fully-rounded individuals, who can become successful participative members of our community, then we must tackle the issue of appropriate teacher training as soon as possible. There must be a more consistent approach to the delivery of services for the visually impaired in all parts of Scotland.
Dominic Everett, chair, Scottish Association for Visual Impairment Education, East Kilbride.