Lack of school resources are failing blind and partially sighted children despite numbers of pupils with vision impairment doubling in the past six years, according to a leading charity.
Royal Blind are calling on the Scottish Government to take urgent action to improve support for blind and partially sighted pupils as school census figures show the number of pupils with vision impairment has risen from 2,005 in 2010 to 4,175 in 2016. However, the charity, which runs the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh, understand that over the same period there has been a reduction in the number of specialist teachers catering for partially sighted children.
They are concerned specialist teachers in vision impairment face unreasonable pressures and are asked to support more pupils with less time to do so. A reason for increased numbers of children with sight problems is down to better survival rates for premature babies and children with multiple disabilities. Royal Blind believe a lack of resources to support mainstreaming of partially sighted pupils in state schools is failing too many pupils.
Mark O’Donnell, chief executive of Royal Blind, said: “We support blind and partially sighted pupils being educated in mainstream schools where that is right for them, but often they are being let down. We have learned of instances where pupils haven’t been able to participate in classes because they are told they are ‘too visual’ or cannot engage in subjects or activities because it is “not safe.” This does not represent real inclusion.”
He added: “Up to 80 per cent of our learning is through our use of vision, therefore it is vitally important specialist support is provided for pupils with vision impairment who have a huge learning disadvantage in comparison to their fully sighted peers.”
Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson Iain Gray MSP said: “These are deeply worrying figures. All schools should be as accessible as possible for blind and visually impaired children and all schools should have the staff and resources they need.” A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Children and young people should learn in the environment which best suits their needs, whether mainstream or special school setting. We are working to implement recommendations of the education committee on the attainment of pupils with sensory impairment and will provide an update later this year.”
Case study: Loneliness could not stop Lewis from fulfilling his university dream
At 18 years old, Lewis Shaw had achieved what many teenager aspire to – excellent Higher results and a place at his chosen university.
Lewis was born without sight. Through hard work and determination he was able to achieve two As and a B in his exams at his mainstream school. But despite his academic achievements, he felt unprepared to leave home.
Now Lewis is spending one year with the Royal Blind School to help him develop the vital life skills he will need during his three years at the University of Stirling.
He said: “It was a daunting prospect to leave home and of course I really miss everyone. But this year is giving me the skills and confidence that I will need to be able to look after myself at university.”
During primary, Lewis remembers enjoying school. He didn’t struggle in class and made friends easily. But when he reached high school, things began to change.
He said: “When I went to high school everything was different. My old friends from primary school deserted me and I suddenly felt very excluded. I couldn’t go outside during break-time. I was told there were health and safety issues with me being outside and I had to spend breaks in a designated room within the school. There were other pupils there too but they all had other learning challenges and I didn’t feel included within that group either. It was horrible and I felt very lonely.
“I tried to make friends by joining a music club at one stage but I ended up leaving after one week.”