From School to Resource Centre: A Comenius 1 School Development Project
Year One Report
The third phase of the project involved management and senior teachers participating in study visits to partner schools. The aim of the visits was to enable participants to learn about and debate areas of current provision which could be developed into some form of resource centre provision.
Study Visit to The Royal Blind School, Edinburgh
The Royal Blind School presented work in the following areas:
1 Assessment Procedures
2 Staff Training
3 Early Intervention
4 Family Support
At the end of the study visit, the group concluded that in addition to the current facilities on offer at the school, the following services could be developed through a resource centre provision:
1 Pre-Nursery Provision: Consideration to extending nursery provision at the school to under 3’s as well increased support for the parents through the provision of respite accommodation at weekends as well as organising social, fun and learning experiences e.g. use of hydro pool.
2. Parent Services: More flexible use of residential areas for parents at weekends and holidays (whilst children are looked after within the school) to enable them to attend courses as well as to meet with one another in support groups.
3. Expansion of Professional Services: Increased use of Low Vision experts within the school and improved liaison with Educational Psychologists.
4. Resource Production: Braille and tactile resources for mainstream schools.
This study visit provided the opportunity for team members to visit a number of different organisations working with children, young people and adults with visual impairment. In terms of a resource centre model, the team members felt the following areas were worthy of consideration of inclusion:
1 Early Intervention Centre: In addition to operating a toy and book library, the centre organises a holiday week for families and their children to give them the opportunity to participate in new and exciting experiences.
2 Training Centre for Adults with a Visual Impairment: Provides excellent Post 16 vocational training for adults. A high staff-trainee ratio and an emphasis on intensive training programme delivering high quality products. Thought should be given to the availability of suitable Post 16 vocational training provision within the model.
3 Centre for Visual Defects: Located within a hospital, this centre provides a multidisciplinary and intensive approach in the diagnosis of low vision and its implications. The team felt that greater consideration should be given to employing low vision specialists within the school environment to ensure that children and young people are taught to use their residual vision effectively.
Sweden has the significant experience of having the resource centre model already in practice and therefore provided a wealth of information for the project. The team reporting back following the visit concluded that the following elements should be considered for inclusion in the European model.
1 Registration System for Enquiries for Services: Allows for data collection, effective delivery, monitoring of the quality of delivery and overall management of the service.
The team strongly recommends that a basic standard form is adopted in the model with opportunity for national differences. It would be important however to have as much similarity as possible to allow easy comparison and data collection on the pan-European level.
2 Building Expertise in Visual Assessment/use of Low Vision Aids: This must be a prerequisite of the model for an MDVI resource centre. The centre must have a designated visual assessment service with the full time employment of a vision therapist, skilled in the use of low vision aids and assessment techniques. There should also be an affiliated ophthalmologist working one or two days a week for the centre. They would, of course, need specialist accommodation.
3 Specialist Knowledge About Medical Conditions Affecting Sight: In the basic model, centres should be empowered to develop specialist knowledge about syndromes like Battens disease and conditions such as retinal blastoma and cerebral visual impairment. This would not necessarily bring about duplication of work but increase understanding of these conditions on a wide scale. The idea would be that, with low incidence syndromes when a child was diagnosed, the first point of reference would be the resource centre who might not always provide direct services but could produce information and programme suggestions or could make tailor-made programmes. There would again be liaison between the centres using MDVI Euronet.
In addition to the above findings, the team gave additional consideration to the actual concept of a special school resource centre:
School and Resource Centre By Iain Prain and Marjorie Adams
The backing of, ideally the national ‘government’ of the country, is critical to the successful establishment and development of the resource centre. To be a resource centre one needs additional funds and staffing and this cannot be supported by the fees of pupils in the school associated with the resource centre. Nor can the ‘centre’ charge realistic costs for the resource service. In addition to financial considerations there are also ’political’ ones. A centre supported by central government is not a threat to local services or associations if charges for services are free or heavily subsidised.
The national status will also provide a clear mission and objectives. This will be necessary to get national funding. It is not really possible to go into any details as each country has a different geography, cultural and historical context, and relative wealth against which to set educational priorities.
There is one major principle regarding the relationship between a school and resource centre that needs to be decided and that can be summed up in three statements, from which we need to choose one.
1 A resource centre only – no full time pupils,
only short courses.
2 A resource centre with a school.
3 A school with a resource centre.
We strongly recommend option 3.
We have another question to add to this basic one. Should the remit of the resource centre be national or international? We would suggest a bit of both. To get funding, the centres will need to be primarily national in remit to fit with the first point made above. However due to the different needs and relative levels of development, different countries will have different skills and resources to offer. Close cooperation between resource centres, ideally through the MDVI Euronet and then personal visits/exchanges, would be one way forward. Inevitably strong links are going to develop between certain centres but we need to have some overall management to ensure it maintains its pan-European vision.
We believe strongly that the school element is critical. This can be summed up best by saying that ‘the pupils are the main resource of the centre’. It is from the experience of working with, assessing and seeing the long term development of the pupils that staff build and maintain their expertise.
The above statement is central to our arguments and we would suggest that non-competitive fees need to be charged for the pupils who attend the school and this too should be heavily subsidised by central government. In this way tensions between the local authority service and the resource centre are reduced and the centre has a representative sample of children to work with, not just those whose parents or authorities have fought hardest or have the greater resources to allow them to attend a specialist centre.
More Staff Essential
If you are a resource centre you cannot do it without high staffing levels. The most effective way to fund such a resource centre is by central government. This funding would support not just the school teaching staff but the outreach workers and administrative support. Other organisations and federations however could also be involved in the funding and provision of services to ensure a high staffing level within the resource centre. Staff also need to be freed up to attend and run courses and as well as developing their research.
Programme of presentations included:
- Child Care Services
- Family Resource Centre
Braille Production Centre
A schedule of visits gave the opportunity to view the school and its various facilities.
The team was impressed with the development of the Braille Production Unit and the new community houses which provide home-like accommodation outwith the school campus. They thought that this type of residential accommodation was surely the 'must have' to which all residential schools should aspire.
Developing a Resource Service for MDVI Children
A significant part of the work of St Joseph’s had been centred on the development of the preschool service for children with complex difficulties in addition to a visual impairment. This provided the opportunity to discuss the issues surrounding such a provision.
• Preschool Multidisciplinary Team: Such a service must include therapists in occupation, speech and language as well as physiotherapy. It is also suggested that a qualified VI teacher with experience in MDVI might also be an important asset to this team. This person could have a dual role as consultant in MDVI education to the school and could develop an outreach and assessment service to MDVI children at home. There might also be a need to be a service for children in long stay hospitals. In addition, this person could assess whether placement in the pre-school unit is appropriate for the child.
• Preschool Pupil Mix: For a facility specialising in meeting the needs of children with MDVI, consideration should be given to including one or two more able children who would benefit from the special provision of mobility, swimming music and computing. This could be on a part-time placement in conjunction with a mainstream nursery. Willingness, flexibility and someone to make things happen - the facilitating role of the teacher - may bring in the one or two more able children who could benefit from the special services offered by the pre-school service. This would provide a good mix of abilities.
The Importance of Communication between Departments
The visit provided the opportunity to learn about the development of the Eye Clinic being held in the school. This sparked off discussion about who gets the information from the Eye Clinics. Is it the therapists or the teacher or the mobility instructor? If the child gets an LVA assessment, who gets the information to help train the child in the use of the LVA?
• Interdepartmental Communication within a Resource Centre: The issues of communication between departments and interdisciplinary working must be discussed between school and residential areas good communication is essential when dealing with VI children.
The team was interested to hear that occupational therapy students are having placements at the school.
• Staff Training: It is encouraged that students from all disciplines come into the centre. The special school can become a centre for student placements in nursing and social work by linking in with teacher training courses, and by organising professional days for psychologists. Offering the special school as a venue for meetings of professional bodies, developing links with medical departments and researchers are ways of opening up the school and teaching people about visual impairment.
National Resource Centre
St Joseph's School is committed to developing itself as a national resource centre. The team support this idea, but some were keen to emphasise the traditional role of the special school and the fact that this must not be overlooked. Many parents are looking for a placement which offers orientation and mobility, living skills, music, ICT and Braille. However, the essential ingredient, which the parents and often the child has stated when applying for a placement at a special school is to be with others like him or herself.
The series of study visits proved to be a valuable exercise in establishing how very different the educational provision for children and young people is across the 4 European nations involved in this school development project. At one end of the spectrum is Sweden with a system where the majority of pupils with special educational needs are included in mainstream schools with support provided by nationally funded centres such as Tomteboda and Ekeskonlan Resourcentre/Vision. At the other end is the provision which is available in the Czech Republic with highly specialised schools each providing for the needs of a small proportion of the visually impaired school population.
Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes are Ireland and Scotland. Both have a mixture of special school placements as well as a significant proportion of pupils placed in the mainstream. The aim of St Joseph’s is very much geared towards establishing a national resource centre to address areas where provision is currently lacking. In Scotland, there is a large number of well developed government and non-governmental agencies providing services to the visually impaired. It would be unrealistic to expect the Royal Blind School to follow the same route as St Joseph’s as this would lead to a duplication of services.
Despite these very real differences, throughout the data collection phase of this project, a number of services are mentioned again and again. It is clear that there is consensus as to a number of core services that should be available to assist in the provision of an effective education for a pupil with visual impairment, regardless of placement. These are:
• Multidisciplinary Assessment and Review Teams: composed of a teacher for the visually impaired, low vision specialist, educational psychologist, social worker, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist, physiotherapist and orientation and mobility staff. This team working together would be able to provide an accurate assessment of the child’s present needs as well as outlining what input is required to achieve a desirable future position.
• Teacher Training: including ICT assistive technology, independent living skills, orientation and mobility, use of tactile learning resources as well as delivering the mainstream curriculum.
• Complementary services: holiday programmes and special workshops for children and young people.
• Learning and Teaching Resource Production: including Braille and other tactile resources for use in the classroom.
In addition to the above core services, a series of secondary services was also identified during the needs analysis including:
- Provision of ICT and access technology services.
- Family support services (respite, support groups and training).
- Prenursery (under 3) provision.
The challenge now is to construct a model that could be applied in different European countries and would ensure that these services are delivered in a co-ordinated way so that the educational needs of children and young people with visual impairment are met.