Sight unseen? Inclusion blamed for results gap
Inclusion is leading to a widening gap between the performance of blind and partially sighted children and other pupils, teachers have warned.
A lack of confidence, self-esteem and social skills is preventing those with ocular disorders playing a full part in school life and achieving top marks, according to research by the charity Guide Dogs.
Teachers also told the charity they were concerned about limited expectations for the children and said they had difficulty in deciding how much support to give and were experiencing finance and staffing issues.
New government statistics for 2008 show that 29 per cent of those with a visual impairment and a statement of special educational need achieved five good GCSEs, including English and maths.
This had fallen by 3 per cent from the previous year. For those without statements, the figure is 38 per cent. Nationally, an average of 48 per cent of all pupils achieved five A*-Cs including English and maths.
Just 180 visually impaired students without statements took A-levels last year, but 41 per cent achieved two passes by the age of 19. For those with statements the figures show that 410 took the exams and 32 per cent had two passes by the age of 19.
Teachers said the difference in performance between visually impaired children and their peers was small at primary school, but that there was a "widening gap on levels of confidence, self-esteem, and social skills" at secondary level.
This was due to lack of awareness about the needs of those with no or little sight, problems in creating resources for them, and worries that too much support could make pupils dependent.
Half of pupils who took part in the survey attend mainstream schools. Most parents - 86 per cent - considered their children to be doing well. The researchers said pupil performance was not affected by their "educational environment", but among secondary children there was a perception those in special schools or mainstream within a special unit were doing better.
"Though most parents were satisfied that their child's school met their needs, all those who weren't satisfied cited a lack of understanding of their child's particular needs as the reason," the study said.
"One of the most serious issues reported by parents was the unavailability and inadequacy of information," the report said. More than a third of respondents flagged up lack of information on academic and career opportunities.
Researchers spoke to almost 100 blind and partially sighted children aged 11 to 22, approximately 400 parents, 150 teachers and teaching assistants and 40 support workers.
One-third of children who reported that they did not enjoy school said it was because they did not feel included. The most difficult activities were PE, making friends and cooking.
School staff say they thought statements were useful, but not all knew if the pupils they looked after had one. Most felt those without them did not have the same access to services.
"The teachers provided us with a detailed picture of a profession facing significant challenges in trying to provide quality education for blind and partially sighted young people," the study.
'I FELT VULNERABLE'
"I would like to have done DT, geography and contact sports, but they couldn't cope with someone like me."
"Sometimes other kids make comments like 'I wonder how she goes to the toilet'."
"Don't have that many friends - couldn't wait to leave. I have weak Asperger's syndrome so find it hard to make friends. It restricts me, but I overcome it a bit."
"I felt depressed and I didn't really fit in because I came from quite a different school, so I had to move. I had quite a rough time really ..."
"Lack of understanding of me, treated incorrectly, inappropriately ... I felt scared, vulnerable."