University of Edinburgh
 

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

Chapter 3 Interviews with parents

Sixteen parents were interviewed (4 sets of mother and father, 8 mothers). Usually these interviews took place in the family home, but on two occasions it was more convenient to arrange the interviews in other locations. Although the parents of all the pupils we talked to gave their permission for their child/children to be interviewed, three parents declined to be interviewed themselves.

The interviews with parents took a similar approach to that of the pupils. We used a topic guide and gave every opportunity for the parents to talk about issues that were important to them and their child. The topics included; what they like about the school; what gives your child confidence; what support is available for yourself and your child; how easily does you child make friends; and do they enjoy meeting new people.

There were certain issues on which parents had more to say than pupils (eg: practical support, social inclusion and worries about the future), which will be grouped under the following headings:

Support

Support

Although several parents mentioned the importance of being able to pick up the phone and talk to someone at the school if they were worried about something, their concerns were more about teachers being informed about visual impairment, and ensuring practical support for their child.

The views of parents echoed those of their children, in that having knowledgeable and supportive staff who were available and approachable was very important.

The teachers all have a fantastic modern knowledge of kids with VI (John’s mother)

There was more help there than she could’ve got at the local school … its been the best sort of move we could’ve made (Joyce’s mother)

The communication from the school is excellent, you’re well informed … nothing is overlooked, everything is dealt with, it’s great! (Joan’s mother)

The support is fantastic… Before I came here I phoned the school … and I spoke to the head teacher, and then I phoned the child psychologist and we had a meeting with all the teachers…. (Tracey’s mother)

Support however, did not always work out as anticipated:

In her cooking classes she came home complaining that she had a special attendant there and Susan said that she wouldn’t let her do anything, even measuring out things. She wasn’t pleased about that. (Susan’s mother).

So I phone the school maybe three months after the computer was in and I said to the teacher ‘how’s John getting on with the computer?’ and she says ‘well, I have no idea because I don’t know how to use it.’ (John’s mother talking about a previous school)

Several parents felt that their child would get support from being with others with a visual impairment. One mother spoke of moving her daughter twice while at primary school;

Basically she was taken out of both of them because there were no other VI children in the school and, to be quite honest, they didn’t have a clue what they were doing (Lisa’s mother)

Sometimes parents had felt unsupported and had to find out things for themselves – sometime from the most unlikely sources:

The first term Tracey was at school she had such a hard time coping … and at that time I didn’t know much about VI and what help you could get, and what help you couldn’t (Tracey’s mother).

I think it was a taxi driver who told me about it (particular school). (Lisa’s mother)

The possibility of their child being isolated and lonely in school did worry some parents:

John had never seen anybody else with Albinism, which made him feel really different. And he didn’t know anybody who was blind. So he felt different from everybody else. (John’s mother)

Several parents acknowledged the delicate line between providing support and that support possibly stigmatising their child, and drawing attention to them as different. In the interviews with the young people there was a sense of them appreciating support that was easily available if/when it was needed. Some parents also felt that support should, if possible, be more low-key. This point was illustrated by a mother (who also has a visual impairment), who felt that classroom support could result in teasing, and that if this happened support should possibly be withdrawn. But she stressed that the pupils should then be closely monitored so that any deterioration in school work would be picked up immediately. She described support as ideally being ‘hidden’ with both pupils and parents able to access it when they needed to.

Social inclusion

These parents felt that the social side of education should be a priority:

To us she would get an education in any school she went to, But, its not that sort of thing we’re worried about. Its like the social side … personal needs and independence ... she loves trips (Jane’s father )

They did all the practical things. They painted the stairs in the school … put double handrails in … they put lines in all the classrooms. But it was the day to day things they never got right. (John’s mother talking about a previous school)

Parents were aware of particular social issues for their children:

He is fine when he knows people. John is quite withdrawn when he meets somebody new, when he doesn’t recognise the voice… some people have the impression that John is not a very sociable kid, while literally what has happened is that John hasn’t seen them … he looses his self confidence when he can’t take part in conversations (John’s mother)

She’s actually not good with her peers. She’s actually better with adults then she is with children of her own age and she’s better with kids younger and older than herself…’ (Tracey’s mother)

Socially she’s fine now. She’s got lots of friends at school. Its just a pityt that there are no out of school clubs for children with a visual impairment. (Lisa’s mother)

Parents recognised the importance of friendships, and the difficulties that sometimes resulted in their children attending schools outwith the area:

He can’t go out at five o’clock at night with Steven who he plays with during the day … he’s had to lose a lot to get an education and that is not fair … parties at the weekends and the sleepovers, he doesn’t get that kind of thing. (John’s mother)

She’s still got friends, yeah. She sees them through, you know, her sort of interests … she gets on well with people, she picks friends up fairly easily. (Joyce’s father)

What can we say … it would be alright if the school was in this area, but she can’t make pals in this area because all the children go to school together. (Jane’s mother)

The issues of bullying was also raised by several parents

Because there’s no bullying here (current school) … that then alleviates all the other problems. She couldn’t do the lessons and she was falling behind at primary because every day that she went in, she couldn’t deal with what was happening… her confidence is gradually growing and she’s able to mix easier with other people, and, hence, made new friends. (Joan’s mother)

He’s lost a lot of his childhood because he’s had to have this smart talk ready for people who want to… ehh …, you know, have a dig at him. (John’s mother)

Things that could be better

As indicated above many parents did recognise friends and social inclusion as an important part of their child’s time at school. There were a number of parents who had moved their child from one school to another because of lack of both practical and emotional support. However, parents generally felt that their child was receiving support in their current school, but there were concerns about what was going to happen in the future:

We don’t have any help or support in choosing schools. I feel, and a lot of the other parents feel, that we’re just left to get on with it. (Lisa’s mother)

I’m a bit scared for her … its big (secondary school). There’s lots of stairs, as well as going to different class rooms in different buildings .. buildings across the road … swimming pool round the corner and down the hill at the sports centre. (Tracey’s mother).

Summary of parents' views

  • Like their children, the parents appreciated 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.
  • Parents were also 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.