From School to Resource Centre: A Comenius 1 School Development Project
Year One Report
The second phase of this research aimed to establish whether or not there is a local demand for the services of a special school resource centre as outlined in the papers reviewed in the previous section. To do this, the partners agreed to perform a needs analysis using a questionnaire. This was issued to parents of, and professionals working with, children and young people with visual impairment who are in a range of different educational services. Returns were received from Ireland and Scotland. In Scotland, questionnaires were issued to parents who had registered with VIScotland’s parents’ information database. This meant that the survey included families of children placed in a wide range of educational settings including mainstream classes, units attached to schools as well as special schools.
Assessment of Current Provision for Children
Families and professionals were first asked to evaluate the current provision made for children with a visual impairment. Professionals were specifically requested to rate services provided by organisations other than their own.
Though the majority of parents in both countries stated that they are satisfied with the current provision made for their children, a larger minority in Scotland felt that current arrangements are inadequate. Professionals in both countries are also in agreement that the current arrangements are satisfactory, though this time a greater proportion of the professionals in Scotland deemed the provision to be excellent.
Those who stated the belief that the quality of support currently available was satisfactory or inadequate were asked to comment further. In Scotland, the majority of remarks pointed to poor communication between service providers and parents, rather than a lack of resources or insufficient local service provision. For example:
“There is little help available readily unless
one is fortunate enough to have good contacts.” (Dumfries.)
“Many promises were made early on by social work etc, but nothing ever happened.” (Glasgow.)
“Lack of communication from educational services.” (Cumbernauld.)
A number of parents have also expressed concerns over:
- Time taken to process Record of Needs.
- Disparities in the quality of provision from one local authority to another.
- The impact of visual impairment being overlooked for children with other profound and complex needs.
In Ireland, parents were unhappy with the lack of provision available locally. Generally, it was felt that there should be more time and resources made available to address the special educational needs of the children and young people with visual impairment within the home area.
Those Scottish professionals expressing concerns outlined difficulties in obtaining help with ICT and in the production of specialist resources for the teaching of maths and sciences. In Ireland, professionals mentioned a shortage of specialists such as occupational therapists, psychologists and SPL therapists. However, like their Scottish counterparts, concern was also expressed about the lack of support for teachers in the mainstream and, again, the fact that this is not available locally.
Short Term Placements in a Special School Resource Centre
Parents and professionals who expressed concern over the quality of current provision were asked whether or not short-term placements at a specialist school for the visually impaired, similar to that which is already available in Sweden, would be welcome as a support for their child.
In Scotland families were unsure of the need for such short-term placements since their problem was not with a lack of local resources but with the way services were managed and delivered. Similarly, professionals were, on the whole, unsure or divided on the idea.
In Ireland, respondents were also vague about the need for short-term placements. However, those that did respond forcefully to this question all believed that short-term placements to address Braille and ICT issues would be valuable.
Resource Centre Services
The next part of the questionnaire was based on the idea of a special school resource centre. Families and professionals were asked, if such a provision were to be developed, which services should be available.
Combining the opinions of both families and professionals from Scotland, the top four services were all based on the provision of better quality information to support placements in the mainstream including: training in eye conditions, advice on curriculum issues, assessment of functional vision and ICT training.
Parents in Ireland felt that all of the services mentioned in the questionnaire would be useful. In addition to the above, the resource centre should provide: early intervention and family support, Braille and tactile resources production, O and M instruction and independent living skills training. Professionals believed that early intervention and family support, functional vision assessment, Braille and tactile resources were the key services that should be developed.
The questionnaire then invited respondents to put forward other ideas for what a resource centre should consider making available. Ideas in both countries focused on providing greater opportunities for children with a visual impairment to meet and mix with their peers, irrespective of their educational placement including socialising with children and young people without special needs. Thoughts in Scotland also included after-school activities, summer holiday programmes as well as workshops addressing issues such as personal and social development, self-esteem and dealing with the public.
In Ireland, the parents also suggested the provision of music therapy and the development of an outreach service to facilitate co-operation between local professionals and those from other counties in providing for the children’s needs. Some mentioned the establishment of regional special schools as well as facilities for neuro-psychological assessment and physiotherapy.
Funding of a Resource Centre
When asked about the funding of a resource centre, it was strongly advocated that the services should be free at the point of delivery and therefore financial support should come directly from government as is the case, once again, in Sweden. However, the funding should be additional to that already allocated to the local authorities. This was the belief from both countries.
One of the main aims of this project is to develop a European model of a special school resource centre for the visually impaired. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to establish whether there is any common pattern of need in both countries. Reviewing the summary of responses it is possible to conclude that the following areas are of concern to both nations:
1. Improved Interagency Cooperation and Communication: Agencies
supporting young people and children with visual impairments need ask
themselves the following questions: “Are we communicating effectively
with families?” and, “Are the methods in place conducive
to ensuring that parents are aware of all the services and support that
are currently available?” Comments from parents appear to indicate
that this is not the case.
2. Improve Quality and Access to Information: Improved functional vision assessment translated into clear implications for educationalists is required along with improved training opportunities for mainstream teachers on a range of issues including: eye conditions, daily living skills, O and M, ICT and access technologies so that a full and holistic educational experience can be delivered locally, within a national context.
3. Outreach Service: Distance proved to be a major concern in providing an effective service for families of and children with MDVI. A mobile team of teachers, therapists and psychologists based at a national centre needs to be assembled so that these experts are able to meet and assess the child or young person with MDVI in his/her home environment. The team should be able to contact other specialists such as deafblind experts or experts in challenging behaviour when required.
4. After School and Holiday Activities: New opportunities for school holiday activities and specialist workshops should be developed.
It is clear, therefore, that in both countries there is a role for a resource centre which could provide expert facilities and advice on implementing appropriate strategies to ensure an effective educational provision for children with visual impairment. Much of this work should be delivered free of charge and the funding of such services should definitely not be at the expense of local authorities.