Charity highlights “shocking” attainment gap

Blind school

RNIB has called for an increase in educational support for children with sight loss

20th December 2019 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Blind and partially sighted school children are gaining fewer qualifications than their classmates, prompting calls from a sight loss charity for action to close a “shocking and unnecessary gap in attainment”.

In a submission made this week to a Scottish Government review of additional support for learning, RNIB Scotland said: “Blind and partially sighted pupils require additional support over the course of their education in order to access the curriculum and achieve the same level as their sighted peers.”

Most of Scotland’s estimated 4,570 pupils with significant sight loss are now educated in mainstream schools. But while only two per cent of pupils with no additional support needs failed to achieve at least one National 4 qualification, the figure was 20% for those with sight loss.

Likewise, while 92% of pupils with no additional needs achieved at least one National 5, only 64% of those with sight loss did. And while 71% with no additional needs achieved at least one Higher, only 40% of those with sight loss did.

But RNIB Scotland insists: “With the right support visual impairment does not have to have an impact on the potential of a pupil to achieve. There is no reason why this attainment gap could not be significantly narrowed if the correct provision is in place.”

The charity points to a 2016 survey that found of the 94 teachers in Scottish schools with - or training to obtain – an additional qualification in teaching children with a visual impairment, their median age was 50, meaning many could soon be retiring.

Alarmingly, there is little incentive to encourage more teachers to take the additional qualification needed. Funding, lack of time, and distance from training provision can discourage more teachers from choosing to adopt this specialist role. To compound the problem, there is no extra financial incentive either.

In its submission, RNIB Scotland said: “The Scottish Government should anticipate this potential shortfall and incentivise teachers to obtain the qualification. Incentives could include financial support and time out of class in order to study for the qualification.”

It also urges that more training is given to teachers and classroom assistants generally on how to support pupils with sight loss.

The charity has welcomed a recent £15m funding boost for additional support for learning but remains concerned that local government cuts could still put budgets at risk. “We urge the Scottish Government to produce an additional support for learning attainment gap strategy to close this unnecessary and shocking gap between pupils with a visual impairment and their sighted peers,” it said.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We want all children and young people to get the support that they need to reach their full potential, including those with sensory impairments. That is why we are investing £750 million during this parliament to tackle the attainment gap and ensure every child has an equal chance to succeed.

“The Additional Support for Learning Act places education authorities under duties to identify, provide for and review the additional support needs of their pupils. The Scottish Government provides over £500,000 to voluntary sector organisations to support children and young people with sensory impairment and £150,000 to the Scottish Sensory Centre to support training to increase the capacity of staff in schools to provide effective support to pupils with a sensory impairment.”