University of Edinburgh

Promoting social inclusion of pupils with visual impairment in
mainstream schools in Scotland

Chapter 5 What do councils do to support inclusion?

Questionnaire responses

One of the aims of this project was to identify the range of school-based strategies and initiatives that promote social inclusion for pupils who have a visual impairment. This aim would be partly answered through our interviews with teachers, but in order to provide an overview of the situation throughout Scotland we developed a short postal questionnaire (Appendix 11) which was sent out to Heads of Service in all 32 local authorities.

We constructed the questionnaire in such a way as to encourage those who completed it to share with us any examples of good practice, initiatives or guidelines which they were aware of in schools which would promote the social inclusion and social competence of pupils with a visual impairment. We also asked questions such as what strategies were used in schools to promote social inclusion and how social inclusion was monitored in order to provide a context for discussing the views and experiences of those we had interviewed.

Twenty-nine questionnaires were returned.

Although many of our questions allowed for comment and/or explanation most took the form of ‘tick box’ answers, which allow for speed and ease of completion. However, although this format allows for some direct comparison of services provided between councils, such comparisons need to be viewed with care as the professional status of those who answered the questionnaire varied and therefore reflected knowledge of council policies in some areas, but not necessarily in all areas. Those completing the questionnaire were Senior Officers from Education Departments, Psychological Services, Sensory and VI Service managers and staff, and Learning Support and SEN Services managers.

As an indication of the distribution of VI pupils in mainstream primaries - 24 Councils had more than 5 primary schools and 13 councils had more than 5 secondary schools that included pupils who were blind or visually impaired. However as a result of local government reorganisation, and changes in service provision in some councils, it is impossible to find comparable figures that would show whether or not there are now more VI pupils enrolled in mainstream schools than, say, ten years ago.

All councils offered peripatetic support to primary and secondary schools.

All but two councils offered pre-school home visiting by TVI. Five councils had a VI Unit in primary school and 7 had VI Units in secondary school – with 2 councils having both and 2 councils in a collaborative arrangement providing access for both to a primary and a secondary unit for their pupils.

Policies and initiatives

We asked respondents to indicate which policies/initiatives promoted social inclusion for pupils with VI in schools (Q6). A small number of councils (5) made the proviso that these were not specifically aimed towards pupils with VI. The following table shows the range of policies used to promote social inclusion:

Initiatives/strategies/policies Not promoted Promoted
Ethos Network 12 16
Positive Behaviour 3 25
Anti-bullying 7 21
Anti-racism 18 10
Circle time 8 20
PSD 3 25
Pupil Councils 11 17
Peer support 12 16
Buddy schemes 12 16

Promoting anti-racism in schools was only seen as important for social inclusion by a minority of councils. Reasons for not ticking this option were not given. One council commented:

There is no way I would wish to single out. VI pupils are treated very much as members of the school community. We would tend to target specific areas if there was felt to be a problem.

Eight councils did not promote circle time and 12 councils did not promote buddy schemes. Although one respondent noted (as an additional comment):

Buddy schemes in secondary have greatly helped the VI pupil especially in S1 in making the transition easier by having an identified ‘friend’. Circle time appears to be working well in primary allowing the VI child to take part and to have a voice when required.

Another council noted that in addition they promoted social inclusion through the:

Implementation of Key Areas detailed in "Self Evaluation by Peripatetic Sensory Services" document eg: Key Area 4 Aspect 4.5.

Key Area 4, Aspect 4.5 of this document (SSC 2001) offers a clear guide on the range of supportive strategies that these services should be considering: Theme (i Personal and Social Development; Theme (ii Confidence and Self Esteem. This document can help in planning as well as evaluating services.

One authority, echoing concerns expressed by some children and parents, noted at this point:

The main difficulty for pupils re inclusion within a rural authority is having the opportunity to meet with other VI pupils.

Funding for activities

The majority of councils would appear to have budgets and be prepared to pay for support (either through extra staff or transport) for class outings and residential trips (Fig 1).

Fig 1

However, the numbers reverse for councils supporting pupils with a visual impairment in ‘after school’ clubs, etc (Fig 2).

Fig 2

However, 13 councils who did not tick this response box, added comments which confirmed that transport/funding would be available if requested.

Cases will be dealt with on an individual basis eg taxi arrangements can be negotiated for later pick-ups, etc.

VI units get funding for after school clubs, etc.

Funding would be available for any (VI) pupil wishing to participate in activities.

One authority acknowledged problems in providing this support:

After school activities – problem accessing these to most severe of our VI children – lack of transport and adult support.

Alternative methods of financing these after school activities were suggested:

Now being pursued under New Opportunities Fund.

Occasionally where difficulties with payment, Social Services have assisted.

Monitoring inclusion

The monitoring of inclusion was through two main structures the IEP (26 councils) and annual reviews in school with parents (23 councils). The figures for pupil involvement in any of these meetings are confusing as we did not ask an either/or question here. But again from comments it appeared relatively rare for pupils to be routinely or structurally involved in meetings with provisos such as ‘dependent on age’ being mentioned several times.

If the child is able this is practised. If possible child is given report.

Some secondary pupils included.

Dependent on age of pupil.

Supporting social inclusion

More than two thirds of councils involved other agencies such as social work, speech and language therapists, and peripatetic specialist teachers, in supporting pupils who were blind or visually impaired. Eight councils also involved mobility/rehabilitation officers and five mentioned educational psychologists . Other agencies/professionals mentioned were careers service, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

We asked if councils work in partnership with other agencies to promote the social inclusion of pupils with VI. The categories we gave were: RNIB, Societies, Voluntary Agencies and ‘Other’. Seventeen councils work with RNIB, 9 with Societies and 6 with voluntary organisations. We did not define societies or voluntary organisations. Twenty-seven authorities responded to ‘other’ sometimes giving names of ‘other’ organisations, sometimes using this as an opportunity to describe ‘how’ they worked with organisations. RNIB is consulted for general and specific advice, eg: equipment. RNIB parent support, courses and funded projects supporting inclusion were mentioned and in one case joint staff development. Local Societies for those with VI were mentioned as providing support groups for parents and for specific eye conditions. One authority mentioned an unspecified service agreement. It was surprising that not more mention was made of this, as previously 8 councils mentioned rehabilitation/mobility officers contributing to social skills/inclusion (Q9). These people will in most cases be employed by either Social Work Services or local Societies for VI. In this context, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is mentioned under ‘other’ as providing mobility training. The Royal Blind School facilities are mentioned, as are Scottish Sensory Centre for courses/resources, and VI Scotland for parent support. Voluntary organisations are mainly contacted for funding, with Rowntree Trust and Calibre being mentioned by name. Respite care was also mentioned under ‘other’. Seven councils gave a general statement saying they would work with other agencies on a case to case basis. In all, 27 councils responded to this question which shows a healthy awareness and good outlook for partnership with the voluntary sector.

Having asked how social inclusion is promoted in schools and how social inclusion for pupils with VI is monitored (Qs 11 & 12 ) we hoped to find out how councils’ inclusion policies are monitored and whether social inclusion was part of this. Twenty-four authorities said that they monitored their inclusion policy in schools. Those identified as being responsible for this were mainly from senior management within the education departments (Q11). Two responses said headteachers were responsible and six replied that their system was being established or did not yet have the line of responsibility clearly defined. We asked if social inclusion was part of this process of monitoring (Q12). Twenty-four respondents replied that this was the case. Those responsible were named as the same as for Q11.

When asked what steps were taken if a problem was identified 14 councils indicated that this would initially come through the VI service; 10 councils indicated that this would initially involve the school, with one other suggesting the social work department and another council initially involving an educational psychologist. Some gave additional information as to how problems would be handled:

In as unobtrusive manner as possible we try to alleviate the problem – maybe by increasing support (either human or other resources…)

… Teachers/Auxiliary staff can discuss concerns and plan how to address identified problems.

Discussions with parent/teacher and/or pupil and support team, actions planned consultatively.

Twenty-three Councils said there was social skills awareness training for pupils with visual impairment– with 22 saying this also occurred for sighted peers. Twenty-seven councils provided awareness training for staff.

One respondent commented re peer and staff training:

Yes, regularly on an individual basis and particularly at major transition stages.

One identified how time was found for staff training:

Yearly INSET for nursery and teaching staff. Use of PAT/CPD time. Formal/informal.

Every council said they would be interested in receiving information on promoting social inclusion of pupils with a visual impairment, and every council, except for one, said they would be interested in specific training for staff to support this (financial constraints on the council was the reason given by the one exception).

Summary of responses to questionnaire

  • All 29 councils who replied offer peripatetic services to schools with pupils with visual impairment. There are 5 primary school units and 7 secondary school units for pupils with visual impairment with 4 councils having access to units in both sectors.
  • Councils use a range of strategies to promote social inclusion of all pupils including pupils with visual impairment.
  • A range of professionals and agencies, including voluntary organisations, support the councils’ education departments in contributing to the social inclusion and social skills training of pupils with visual impairment.
  • Most councils monitor their inclusion/social inclusion policies, with senior management within education departments being responsible for this.
  • Social skills awareness training is available for pupils with visual impairment, their peers and school staff in the majority of authorities. This training is provided mainly by TVI’s along with school staff.
  • Involvement of pupils in meetings and/or decisions that affect them, did not always appear to be routine procedure.