University of Edinburgh

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

Executive Summary

The Government recognises that ensuring all children develop good levels of social competency in their school years has the potential to be a very powerful strategy for promoting lifelong social inclusion. The aims of the project were: to identify the range of school based strategies and initiatives that promote social inclusion for pupils who have a visual impairment; to describe the experiences of social inclusion/exclusion for pupils with visual impairment in mainstream primary and secondary schools in Scotland. We also undertook to produce draft guidelines and identify support materials to facilitate social inclusion (see Appendix IV & V). It is intended that the guidelines be further developed during a seminar to be organised by the Scottish Sensory Centre in June 2002.

We interviewed pupils (17), parents (16), and teachers (24), and sent a short postal questionnaire to all 32 Scottish Local Authorities (29 questionnaires returned).

Three issues stand out from the interviews with the pupils:

  • the importance of knowledgeable and available support from teachers. Although pupils did not readily talk about staff providing direct emotional support there were several comments about the importance of knowing that staff, who understood you, were around if you needed them. It was implicit in many statements that this understanding should be related to the pupils’ visual impairment and the particular issues that stemmed from this.
  • the importance of friends both for self-esteem and protection from bullying; Friends could provide support and contribute to self esteem in many ways, but it was explicitly recognised by a number of those interviewed that having friends also offered them some kudos and protection against being bullied. Bullying and/or name-calling was (or had been) an issue for almost half of the pupils interviewed. Although the reasons for bullying are complex, several of those interviewed felt it was directly related to their visual impairment.
  • the need for better communication between teachers to promote inclusion in the classroom. Some schools had information booklets and formalised meetings to provide staff with information about the needs of some pupils. But, this was not always successful and sometimes basic information about a pupil’s visual impairment was not passed on to class teachers, or had been forgotten.

Issues raised by parents:

  • The importance of knowledgeable and supportive staff. For many parents it was important to be able to trust staff to be ‘up-to-date’ about learning aids and techniques that would support their child in school.
  • Sensitive support. Parents were aware of the difficult line that teachers and support staff had to tread in order to provide support that allowed their child to fully engage with the curriculum, in a way that was not stigmatising.
  • Friendships and social inclusion were recognised by parents as an important part of school life, and they appreciated schools that offered more than practical help and support to their children.
    Issues raised by teachers.
  • An inclusive ethos in a school was a valuable support for many teachers in their attempts to fully include pupils in all aspects of school life.
  • Support teachers in the classroom could restrict teacher-pupil relationships forming in the usual way.
  • School development plans, staff development and the role of the senior management were important in promoting the full implementation of inclusive policies. Many teachers felt more able to support pupils with a visual impairment if there were inclusive structures in place (in the school and in the authority), and effective communication and exchange of information between staff and parents.