Charity calls for action to support record number of pupils with visual impairment

Press Release | 31/03/2020

New figures published by the Scottish Government show the numbers of pupils with vision impairment in Scotland’s schools has more than doubled over the last ten years, leading to a call from Scotland’s largest visual impairment charity for increased specialist support. Royal Blind is calling on local authorities and the Scottish Government to take urgent action to improve support for blind and partially sighted pupils. 
The Scottish Government’s Pupil Census for 2019 shows there were 4,735 pupils with vision impairment. This is a rise from 4,574 pupils last year and more than double the number recorded in the Pupil Census in 2010, which showed in that year there were 2,005 pupils with visual impairment.
 
Over the same period where there has been an increase in the number of pupils with visual impairment in mainstream schools there has been a reduction in the number of specialist teachers who provide vital support such as braille tuition and learning adaptations. Royal Blind is concerned that specialist teachers in visual impairment in mainstream schools are facing unreasonable pressures, being asked to support more pupils with less time to do so.
 
Royal Blind is calling on local authorities and the Scottish Government to ensure the right support is in place for vision impaired pupils and their families in the future.
 
Responding to the figures, Mark O’Donnell, Chief Executive of Royal Blind said:
 
“Obviously everyone’s top priority just now is coronavirus including protecting the more vulnerable such as those with disabilities including visual impairment.  However, we must keep sight of the disadvantage these groups already faced before the pandemic, which may only get worse afterwards.We have never before had so many pupils with visual impairment in Scotland’s schools, and we are concerned that just when more support is required too often pupils aren’t getting the access they need to specialist teachers. Royal Blind is pleased to be working successfully with a number of local authorities to improve support for pupils, but across the country budgets are being cut for additional support needs in schools.  This is not sustainable when there is already an attainment gap for blind and partially sighted pupils, leading to poorer chances for them in employment.
 
“More research is required into why there has been this increase in the number of children and young people with visual impairment, but the trend is clear meaning there are more pupils who need extra support. Our highly specialist teachers in visual impairment do a great job, with no additional incentives provided for them to undertake their training. But there are fewer of them in mainstream schools at the very time when there are more pupils who need their support, and they are being asked to do more and more.
 
“If blind and partially sighted pupils are to have the support they need for fair chances in education we need to have a collective effort between government and local authorities to meet this challenge. We are keen to play our part as a chairty in taking this vital work forward.”
 
ENDS
 
Note to Editors
 
The Scottish Government’s Pupil Census for 2019 is published here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/pupil-census-supplementary-statistics/
 
A 2012 study by the Scottish Sensory Centre (SSC) reported there were 88 Qualified Teachers of Children and Young people with Vision Impairment (QTVIs) working in 27 local authorities for 2,019 vision impaired pupils.  A second study by the SSC in 2016 found there were a total of 65 QTVIS working in all local authorities for 4,177 pupils.