My son, Leo is 7 and has just spent a number of months out of school. Leo had faced a number of issues in mainstream school and at no fault to the school, his social and emotional needs were not being met, he wasn’t happy and really struggled being the only visually impaired child in the school. Because of this I set about looking for a specialist school or school with a visual impairment resource based attached.
After visiting a number of schools across the country I found a mainstream school with a VI resource base that I felt was the the perfect choice for Leo. I set about making plans to move to the area. I also looked into VI services and felt very confident that the county could provide Leo with a variety of social and physical activities specifically tailored for visual impairment.
Unfortunately this was not the end of the story and the next few months were far from straight forward. The school I had chosen had no space so I had to home school Leo until a place became available. I was, and still am, absolutely positive that it is vital that he attend a school with specialist provision and experience in visual impairment and that he have the opportunity to go to school with a peer group that he can relate to.
All I wanted was for him is to go to a school that had provision set up to meet his specific needs. Nothing more, nothing less. I think there is a real risk that parents can feel ‘not listened to’ and that without a ‘fight’ children can slip through the cracks. It’s sad but as parents we have to push for what you believe is best for your child and not stop pushing until you get it.
I’ve heard many stories from parents about their children feeling excluded and lonely in school. Social interaction for a visually impaired child is tricky and it’s vitally important, in my opinion, for adults to encourage and help nurture friendships. Often in a school that has never had a VI pupil they concentrate so much on braille, mobility and adapting materials (all very important things of course!) that normal ‘kid things’ like friendships and social behaviours can be forgotten.
I know there are many VI children who not only cope in mainstream but thrive! I know some personally, so my battle for a specialist provision does not mean that I think all children need that, for my son, it is right for him. I am very lucky that a place did open up and this term he started at the school I think is right for him.
What I would love to see is a specialist provision within a mainstream school in each county. Due to funding cuts over the years there are only four specialist VI schools in England. There are only 10 mainstream primary schools with a VI resource base attached in England, out of 16’818 primary schools (2012 stats)! That is just not enough. But that’s another battle for another day.