Teacher devises specialist deaf-blind curriculum

30th April 2010 at 01:00
Multi-sensory impairment education `comes of age' after five years of development work

The uk's first specialist curriculum for deaf-blind children has been developed by a classroom teacher in England.

Heather Murdoch spent more than five years devising the detailed document amid concerns that pupils with multi-sensory impairment (MSI) are not getting a sufficiently high-quality education.

It is hoped that her curriculum, which has won the backing of Sense and Sense Scotland, the charity for deaf-blind people, will benefit thousands of pupils and teachers.

Dr Murdoch, who has more than 30 years' experience of working with MSI children, designed the curriculum while working at the Birmingham MSI unit at the city's Victoria School, a major centre for children with physical disabilities.

"This is the first curriculum that spells out how we work with students at different stages, how they develop and how they progress," says Dr Murdoch. "There is no other curriculum like it in the UK.

"MSI pupils have to have a different curriculum because their condition can cause problems. If you can't see or hear well, you start school with no understanding of how to learn."

Eileen Boothroyd, education officer at Sense, says: "MSI children have only been recognised in the last 15 years. The impairment makes learning in the ordinary classroom extremely difficult, especially for teachers. This new curriculum means MSI education is coming of age."

The 150-page document includes content backed up with in-depth case studies for teachers to draw on. In June 2007, Ofsted inspectors visited Victoria School while the curriculum was being developed and described it as "excellent". It was after this recognition that Dr Murdoch and her colleagues decided to offer it to other schools for the 4,000 MSI children in the UK.

Ms Boothroyd says: "It really is designed to fit with the English national curriculum, but the way it's written - although there are checks and balances to the way English schools report - it would undoubtedly be able to be used in a Scottish context.

"It has a nice approach to children, saying it should be about individuals. One should build learning around children."

With the recent emergence of a "P" (performance) level in the English and Welsh curriculum, addressing the needs of children who don't conform to a standard curriculum, a number of initiatives have come on stream to reflect better the reality of how those with impairments to both sight and hearing learn about their world, says Stuart Aitken, a senior consultant with Sense Scotland.

"A Curriculum for Multi-Sensory Impaired Children takes its place among many curricula and assessments that have tried to address a more holistic approach to learning, in which communication and interaction with the social and physical world are placed right at the centre of a child's learning," he says.

"It is divided into four phases, each described as a series of `features of learning' - how the child or young person interacts with their world of places, people and objects."

These phases draw on other bodies of work, such as Coupe and Goldbart's six stages of communication before speech, says Dr Aitken. But a key principle is the child-centred approach of starting from where the pupils are.

The curriculum is not intended as a prescriptive "do this, then that" approach, he adds, but is demanding of staff, expecting inter-disciplinary learning. It gives direction, substance, progression, heuristics for deciding when and how the child is ready to move forward.

Dr Murdoch's curriculum, which has been trialled in 10 schools, can be downloaded free from the Sense website. It has been accessed 400 times since being made available at the beginning of the year.


Impaired senses

The Curriculum for Multi-Sensory Impaired Children covers eight areas:

social relationships and emotional development


conceptual development

sensory responses

understanding of time and place

orientation, movement and mobility

ownership of learning

responses to routines and changes.

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