When Covid-19 closed schools across the country, parents suddenly became responsible for education at home. The absence of qualified teachers and classroom space has been challenging for most families. But, children and young people with sight loss have also lost access to many of the school resources usually in place to support them – and families don’t always have the knowledge or equipment to replicate that support at home.
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Beth*, aged 15, was born with Nystagmus. At school, she needs her work printed in a large font, or she uses a laptop or iPad to increase the font size on screen to suit her.
After lockdown, Beth’s school sent all her work in very large print, but it took a long time to read and she was really struggling. She was getting headaches and fatigue, and the work she sent back to school was getting poor marks and feedback, leaving her feeling really frustrated. Lessons were also posted online, but the family didn’t have a computer or iPad and Beth wasn’t able to see the tasks on her smartphone screen. Beth’s mum contacted the school as she knew they had laptops that could be loaned, but was told they had all been allocated to other pupils. She tried to get in touch with the school’s SENCo (special education needs co-ordinator) on several occasions but didn’t receive a response.
The family felt like no one was listening or understood how Beth’s vision affected her learning.
Beth’s mum then heard about information and guidance for children and families available from Guide Dogs. She called us and immediately spoke to someone who knew exactly what they were going through.
We were able to refer the family straight to our Specialist Education Team, who could advise on all the different support options that can help children with sight loss currently learning at home.
We established that Beth didn’t currently have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) in place - which outlines any special education needs and how the local authority will help address them. While Beth had been supported by a Qualified Teacher of the Visually Impaired (QTVI) at primary school, the family weren’t aware that this support was also provided in secondary school.
Our experts liaised directly with Beth’s school and her local authority QTVI, which fast-tracked their request for a laptop. Beth received the laptop just after Easter and could finally start accessing all the lesson materials in the format that worked for her.
As well as addressing their current issues relating to home learning, we could also advise Beth’s mum about the future. Beth is in Year 10 and will sit her exams next year - so it’s a crucial stage and important she has the right support.
Sam, our Specialist Education Support Officer, has contacted Beth’s local QTVI and arranged for an assessment of Beth’s education needs to be completed once schools return to normal. The family can also apply for a Guide Dogs access technology grant, so Beth can get her own laptop for her school work. We’ve also made a referral for habilitation, so Beth can learn useful skills to improve her confidence out and about and at home.
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