University of Edinburgh

Newsletter 30 Autumn 2010



For this issue we were contacted by the inventors of a new piece of equipment, the Skoog (see it in action in this picture), which will be of interest to colleagues involved in music education and technology.

There is a very interesting article by Jennifer McDougall from Glow as she updates us on the work they are involved in to develop the intranet for education.

Also in this issue, Dr David Feeney, Manager, V.I. Scotland, follows up on his work with Grounds for Learning (GfL) expanding his work in outdoor environments to include School Playgrounds. 

Just before the summer break we sent out our CPD programme of seminars and workshops for this session. We hope you have found something of interest in it. The course on Assessment of Visual Functions in Children with Visual impairment: Saturday, 11th December, 2010 will be delivered by Professor Jonathan Jackson, Consultant Optometrist, Head of Optometry, Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast.

As Christmas is coming, yes it is, we include details of our Christmas Card Competition for 2010 (see page 4). There is also an A4 poster attached to the newsletter for pinning to noticeboards or for general circulation so please get your paintbrushes out and send us your entries.



Morag Heeps joined the SSC to take over the Braille Competency Course in September 2003 from Margaret Lee. When Margaret handed over the reins she was confident she was leaving the course in very capable hands and said "... I'm sure it will go from strength to strength." I think she would agree that this has certainly been the case.

The last 7 years have been interesting and eventful. To meet the Scottish Government's revised guidelines for Requirements for Teachers in 2005, Morag was instrumental in developing a new SSC introductory Braille course to run alongside the full course. Shortly after this it was decided to seek more formal accreditation for both courses through the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). Although the course procedures and record keeping was always of a high standard, a lot of development work was undertaken in order to meet the SQA's approval criteria. Morag and the rest of the SSC were very pleased when all the hard work proved worthwhile and the SSC became an SQA Approved Centre in 2008 with very successful subsequent review visits.

Margaret Lee's 'larger than life' personality could have been a very hard act to follow but Morag has always arrived in the SSC with her own tall tales, a glint in her eye and sweeties or shortbread under her arm - a winning combination. As Morag leaves us to enjoy her garden, new puppy, Poppy, and possibly even spend time with her husband, if he's good, we hope we can continue this run of luck with the next Braille Tutor (see below).


SSC Part-time vacancy: Braille Tutor

As some of you may know, after seven most enjoyable years as Braille Tutor at the SSC I have decided that the time has come to hang up my brailler and retire properly! These past few years as Braille Tutor have been both interesting and exciting but most of all a very satisfying challenge.

I'm sure there is someone reading this that has the wish to use their years of experience working in the field of Visual Impairment in a new and exciting way. Why not contact the SSC and find out what the job is all about.

As you will see from the photograph above I have already acquired my next challenge! Poppy is a 15 week old Chipoo (Chihuahua/Poodle mix). Like children, puppies keep you young, so it is said!

Many thanks to you all,



Resource Library Update

The resource library we have at the SSC has been built up over many years starting from the humble beginnings of items donated by members of SSC staff. There were around 1,300 library items in the small room the library occupied in Charteris Land when I arrived on the scene in 1998. We have continued to build on this and we were able to expand slightly on our move to our current location in Paterson's Land. The collection currently holds about 3,500 items including books, videos, DVDs, assessments and CD-ROMs. In addition to this number we have our journal collection some of which dates back to 1921 and many of the recent articles contained in this collection are catalogued in our Journal Articles database.

So much has changed but our library fees have not. It has been many years since we have revised the fees that we charge for the SSC Resource Library subscription and this year it has been decided that the subscription fees will rise from 1st September 2010 as follows:

Organisations: £30 per year,
Individuals: £10 per year,
Concession (unwaged): £5 per year

These charges help us to pay the costs of posting materials and to continue to keep the library collection as up to date as possible. For this fee you have access to our highly regarded collection. I would also remind all of our readers that the service is open to all and that materials can be posted to you at any address within the UK once you become a member of the library. Enquiries into any topic relating to the education of visually impaired or deaf children are welcomed. We can also help you to find articles in journals or magazines.

Sheila Mackenzie
Resource Library Manager
Telephone: 0131 651 6069


Royal Blind School staff honoured

Mary Lee received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Scottish Education Awards in June 2010 in recognition of her ground-breaking work in improving communication with children who are visually impaired with additional disabilities.

Iain Prain was awarded an MBE for 'Services to Education' in the New Year’s Honours List 2010. Iain is Vice-Principal of the school and he is recognised internationally for his work with children and young people who have additional impairments as well as being visually impaired. Iain has worked continuously to improve this area of additional support needs and to foster co-operative links with partners in Europe and further afield.

We hope that you will join with us in offering our good friends and colleagues, Mary and Iain our warmest congratulations.

Janis Sugden
SSC Coordinator


Visual Impairment Scotland Update

From September 2010 V.I. Scotland will be collaborating with Grounds for Learning (GfL) to deliver a programme of inclusive outdoor education training sessions with a selection of mainstream primary schools in the Dunbartonshire area.

Teachers across all subject areas report that active learning in school grounds improves learning through greater pupil engagement, access to a wider range of teaching resources and making connections to the world beyond the classroom. But how do you deal with the challenges of timetables, weather and managing a class outside? GfL have developed a blended CPD programme that has proven to be a successful way of supporting teachers to make learning outside a regular and effective part of their practice. The programme has a strong emphasis on active, reflective and co-operative learning, and will involve participants in planning, running and evaluating a number of outdoor lessons with their pupils in their school grounds. We aim to encourage and support teachers to take their classes outside into the school grounds to support the Curriculum for Excellence. The favouring of visual learning styles in mainstream classroom teaching encourages visually impaired pupils to adopt a passive role in their own education. This inevitably results in the under-utilisation of non-visual modalities. Spending time outside the classroom offers abundant opportunities for the incorporation of kinaesthetic and multisensory approaches. V.I. Scotland’s involvement will help participating schools ensure that pupils with visual impairment are not precluded from participation in outdoor learning sessions.

The programme rationale is informed by the findings that a more considered targeting of preferred learning styles is known to improve learning. Engagement and involvement in grounds projects gives opportunities for those who struggle with academic learning to demonstrate other skills and be publicly recognised for them while encouraging an increased sense of participation and pride in school activities. In a GfL survey of schools that had improved their grounds, for example, 65% reported an improved attitude to learning. For pupils with visual impairments, outdoor learning environments are more likely than classroom settings to excite curiosity and reward active exploration and to complement existing teaching strategies in a variety of ways.

To support participating schools GfL and V.I. Scotland will run a two-year training project to investigate ways to take learning outdoors and enhance the experiences of the pupils.  Throughout the duration of the project two teachers and two members of support staff from each school will work with us to share ideas and experiences and trial new methods of teaching at their settings. The group will meet 4 times (1 twilight and 3 full days) and each teacher will receive an individual half-day consultation to support taking a chosen lesson outdoors. Year 2 of the project will entail elements of inclusive redevelopment of school grounds. In order to reduce the cost of participation, training days will coincide with allocated Inset days. We are currently seeking expressions of interest from a number of additional schools in the Dunbartonshire area and, ideally, will be:

  1. mainstream schools without a specialist VI unit;
  2. attended by at least one pupil with a vision impairment;
  3. in a position by the last six months of the two-year project to invest some resources in the physical development of their outdoor grounds and play areas.

At the end of the project we will collate the information gathered, develop lesson plans and ideas and create resources to be shared within the group and other schools attended by pupils with visual impairments. Any schools in the Dunbartonshire area interested in participating in the project can contact us.

David Feeney
Manager of V.I.Scotland
Tel 0131 651 6078


2010 Christmas Card Competition

It's that time again - Christmas is coming - and the SSC would like to invite entries for this year's Christmas Card competition from all pupils in Scotland who are deaf or who have a visual impairment. As usual there are three categories:

3-7 years

8-11 years

12-18 years.

All the entries submitted will be returned after the winning designs are chosen. Our favourite overall design will be used for the SSC Christmas card itself but prizes will be awarded to the winners of all three categories. The winning designs for 2010 will be highlighted in the next Spring newsletter.

Deadline for submissions will be Monday, 16th November 2010.


Music for Everyone


New technology promises 'music for everyone'

Children who cannot use traditional instruments may soon be making music of their own with an easy-to-use invention developed at the University of Edinburgh. The Skoog is a new universally accessible musical instrument.

In the words of Diana Johnson MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department of Children, Schools and Families): "Music isn't just an added extra, it has very positive benefits for the whole school and for children's education across the board - for discipline, self-esteem, confidence and teamwork - all of which are integral to a good education. Music has to be part and parcel of the whole education offer."

There is no doubt that music is a positive force, but access to making music can be a complicated and technical process - getting instruments into the hands of children, providing the necessary support to learn to play, and a conducive environment in which to do so - are all key in delivering music in education.

The barriers can be even more fundamental for those with physical and learning difficulties. Created to give individuals unable to play traditional instruments, for whatever reason, the opportunity to learn, grow and express themselves as musicians, the Skoog is a colourful, squeezy cube. It is sensitive to the slightest touch, yet robust enough to resist strong handling allowing even severely disabled children to play music in an expressive way.

There are a wide range of switch based technologies for making music but switches are just switches. Either on or off, there is no room for all the shades in between.  Triggering a sound is one thing but sculpting your own sound is where you can really be expressive. This uses the movements made on its surfaces to create the instrumental sounds. This places the user at the heart of the sounds they are creating and controlling. As a result users can alter pitch, timbre and volume with a very small range of movement.


One of the key differences about this product is that it is soft and tactile. It feels friendly and inviting and makes the user want to touch and manipulate it without the need for technical instruction. It is designed to be touched, to be handled and played with.

The Skoog is the invention of Dr Benjaman Schögler and Dr David Skulina as a result of several years pioneering research at the University of Edinburgh funded by NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts). With the support of Professor Nigel Osborne, a key figure in bringing the project to fruition, Scottish Enterprise and the commercial team at Edinburgh Research and Innovation, Skulina and Schögler have formed Skoogmusic Ltd. The project was also supported by 4 local authorities in Scotland: East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, Fife and North Lanarkshire. Both Ben and David are musicians and their main aim is to get more people playing music.  Their backgrounds are diverse with David specialising in the physics of musical instruments whilst Ben comes from a background of developmental psychology and human communicative musicality.

The team worked closely with pupils and teachers to ensure progress from prototype to product was guided by the people who were going to be using it. In fact in November last year at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow the Skoog had its first public outing. Schools involved in all of the research came together to perform a composition by Professor Osborne celebrating the work of the past few years. The concert saw four soloists from Hillside School in East Ayrshire performing alongside a full orchestra and choir led by Tim Sharpe of North Lanarkshire.

It was designed to meet the needs of those in the most challenging of circumstances; as a result it is an instrument that can be played by anyone. With this in mind Skoogmusic are looking towards early years and music provision in mainstream education. It's fun and it's friendly and it could be just what's needed to get more kids into making music earlier.

Backed by the Youth Music Initiative, teachers and pupils in Orkney have already begun experimenting with the kit. Staff have already noticed its ability to enable connection with pupils affected by very severe communication difficulties and some pupils have already composed a piece which has been used for a drama session.


In the words of Dr Schögler "Making music can be a huge help in a child’s development through boosting learning and creativity. The Skoog can be used by anyone, of any age or ability, to make music and more importantly to have fun!"



Glow logo

Glow is Scotland's first national intranet providing educational access to pupils, teachers, parents and educational partners and bodies. It breaks down geographical and social barriers and provides the tools to ensure a first-class education for Scotland. As well as fully supporting Curriculum for Excellence Glow provides the following for its users:

  • A trusted and safe environment;
  • A space to create personalised programmes of work and share thinking and curricular resources;
  • A variety of online tools to enhance learning experiences;
  • Virtual learning to share information and take part in a lesson;
  • Tools to enable you to communicate and collaborate across the network;
  • Communities of practice that offer practitioners rich opportunities to share and collaborate;
  • Innovation in learning and teaching approaches by engaging and immersing young people in relevant learning experiences;
  • Motivation and support for individualised learning, personalisation and choice.

To date all 32 education authorities and 6 Teacher Education Institutions (TEIs) have signed up to use Glow and all have received initial training. Each authority is at different stages in its roll out of Glow but all are able to set up accounts for users on request. To find out more about how Glow is rolling out in your authority and to find out who your Glow Key Contact is please visit:

Glow has also undergone a variety of changes in the past year on the request of the users, the newest being the introduction of Glow Light which is an easy to navigate interface that users log into immediately. Other changes include the introduction of easy to select favourites within Glow, a new enhanced search facility and blogs.

Another change that happened earlier in the year was the development of an easy to navigate Additional Support Needs National Glow Group.  Initially, in the early days, there were many National groups for ASN and they were often difficult to find but, with the new easy to navigate group, users are able to easily find what they are looking for. The groups give pupils, teachers and parents the opportunity to discuss issues at a National level and to find relevant resources, weblinks and important information all in the one place.

In keeping with changes made in the National Group, Glow also introduced a new theme (or skin) to the list of available themes. Theme 9 is an accessible theme specifically for ASN users. After consultation with many practitioners in different fields this theme was developed although like all of Glow it is hoped that improvements will be made to this as well to make it even more accessible for all users.

Glow heart

As with all schools and TEIs Glow Meet continues to be a vital part of the Glow package as it provides an opportunity for sharing and collaboration between pupils, teachers, schools and universities with video and audio interaction as well as whiteboard facilities. Pupils are able to communicate via Glow Meet with other schools across Scotland as well as just down the road and teachers are able to take part in CPD opportunities that previously they were unable to attend.

Glow is continuing to develop with the help of the users themselves and we hope that you will be able to contribute to this exciting national initiative.

For further details and information please contact:, Jennifer McDougall, Glow Development Officer,



The next meeting of SAVIE (Scottish Association for Visual Impairment Education) will take place at the Scottish Sensory Centre on Friday, 19th November. This one-day event for Teachers of the Visually Impaired and other professionals working with visually impaired young people will focus on the use of digital media technology in the classroom. Speakers will include:

  • Peter Dennis from Leckie and Leckie Educational Publishers will discuss the provision of learning resources in a digital format for adaptation
  • Patricia Carroll, Learning and Teaching Scotland, will provide an update on progress of the 'Books for All' database.
  • Dr Stuart Aitken from CALL Scotland will inform members of its input into the Books for All programme.

In the afternoon, John Legg, Director of RNIB Scotland, will deliver a keynote address on RNIB strategy for the provision of services across Scotland, 2010-20. This should be an extremely informative and well-attended event.

For more information please contact:
Dominic Everett,


Decimal: Foundations of mathematical learning in deaf and hearing children

We are looking for deaf children with no additional neurological, behavioural or learning difficulties, to take part in a study looking at deaf cognition and mathematics from the University of Aberdeen and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, New York. The study aims to look at a wide range of factors including language, memory, and attention, to investigate why many deaf children lag behind their hearing peers in maths. The testing takes about 2 hours to complete and can be done in school or at a location of your choice. The researcher carrying out the testing has Level 2 BSL and an enhanced police disclosure. If you are the parent or teacher of a child aged between 5-11 years who you think would be suitable to take part and would like more information please get in touch.

Emily Nordmann,

Telephone: 01224 273604


Assessment of Visual Functions in VI Children: Saturday, 11th December

Jonathan Jackson

Professor Jonathan Jackson will present the above SSC Course. There will be two formal presentations (the Causes of Paediatric Vision Impairment in the UK and Ireland; and the Assessment of Vision Functions in Children) and three workshop activities (Understanding Refractive Error and its Correction; Child Friendly Testing of Visual Acuity; and the Assessment of Colour and Contrast).

This is an excellent opportunity to hear Jonathan present as well as hear about the research projects in which he has been involved. He is a lively and stimulating presenter, and is quickly gaining international recognition. Some of you may remember his speech at the 2009 ICEVI conference in Dublin. Recent conferences include VIEW in Cheshire and International Orientation and Mobility in Ottawa, Canada.

Jonathan has a distinguished background: he studied Ophthalmic Optics/Optometry at Glasgow College of Technology. Upon completion of a pre-registration year at Moorfields Eye Hospital, London he obtained membership of the College of Optometrists and was awarded both the Scottish and Colebrook prizes (1982). After establishing a hospital optometry department at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, he completed a PhD entitled “An Analysis of Corneal Endothelial Morphology under Normal and Traumatic Conditions” at Queens University (1993). More recently, he has been awarded Fellowships of the British Contact Lens Association and the American Academy of Optometry, and is Principal Optometrist at the Royal Victoria Hospital and Assistant Director Integrated Care (Optometry) at the Northern Ireland Health & Social Care Board. Jonathan also holds an Honorary Professorship in the School of Biomedical Sciences/Centre for Vision Science, Queen’s University, Belfast.

Research interests include visual disability and corneal physiology/contact lenses with particular emphasis on paediatrics and learning disability. During a research fellowship sabbatical in UC Berkeley, California, Jonathan collaborated with Professor Ian Bailey on the development and assessment of a number of child-friendly tests for the assessment of acuity and contrast in children and adults with vision impairment. Along with Professor James Wolffsohn, Jonathan has co-authored a textbook on low vision entitled, "The Low Vision Manual". Please contact the SSC for more details and application form if you have not already received them: course closing date is 19th November.


Health in my language

This is a new website which brings together all sources of alternative languages for public medical information including BSL:

The links come from a variety of sources such as the NHS and organisations of a variety of medical professions. Some of the links tell you where to order relevant DVDs while others lead directly to BSL video materials on the web.


SSC Courses 2010-11


  1. Braille Competency Course (Distance Learning Mode): SQA accredited Grade 1 (3 month course) - applications accepted at any time. Grade 2 (18 month course) - applications accepted between April to September - course full
  2. Psychosocial Issues for Deaf Teenagers (15/9/10)
  3. First Steps to Teaching Braille (30/9&1/10/10)
  4. Preparing Deaf Students for Exams & Leaving School (7/10/10)
  5. Development & Supportive Interventions for VI Babies (11/11/10)
  6. Audiology Update (25/11/10)
  7. Deafness & Early Years Launch and Update (1/12/10)
  8. Assessment of Visual Functions in VI Children (11/12/10) 2011
  9. Curriculum for Excellence [VI & Deaf Education] (tbc)
  10. 'Meaningful Participation': Facilitating Learning for Pupils with Visual Impairment and Additional Difficulties (18/1/11)
  11. Supporting Deaf Pupils with Additional Learning Needs (18/1/11)
  12. Cerebral Visual Impairment: Educational Perspective (27/1/11)
  13. Sensory Play and Learning (11/3/11)
  14. Physical Education for Children and Young People with Visual Impairment (tbc)
  15. Cochlear Implant Update Day (12/5/11)
  16. Teaching Maths and Science to Pupils with VI (tbc)
  17. Making Use of Outdoor Environments for VI Children (June 2011 tbc)
  18. An Introduction to Auditory Verbal Therapy (16/6/11)

Other (contact SSC for further information on the courses below)

  • Pathway to Competence for Teachers of Children and Young People who are Deaf or Visually Impaired
  • Modifying Language for Deaf and Deafblind People
  • Developmental Journal Training (Outreach)
  • Electronic Notetaking


SSC Contact Details

Janis Sugden, Co-ordinator 0131 651 6071
Rachel O'Neill, Lecturer in Deaf Education 0131 651 6501
Carole Torrance, Deaf Education CPD Organiser 0131 651 6501
Morag Heeps, Braille Tutor 0131 651 6501
Elizabeth Izatt, Website Development Manager 0131 651 6070
Sheila Mackenzie, Resource Library Manager 0131 651 6069
Ruth Simpson, Administrator/Supervisor 0131 651 6501
Linda Hope, Senior Secretary 0131 651 6501
VI Scotland Dr David Feeney, Manager 0131 651 6078

Fax: 0131 651 6502
Textphone: 0131 651 6067
Skype: Scottish.Sensory.Centre

The SSC is a national centre funded by the Scottish Government (Support for Learning)

Newsletter Contributions:
Contributions to the Scottish Sensory Centre Newsletter will be gratefully received. Next issue will be in Autumn 2010 so contributions should be in by mid August 2010.

This Newsletter is available, on request, in alternative formats.