Elle’s story – The transition from Primary to Secondary

photo 1Well, two days in and Elle has been using a Bunsen Burner in Science! In Scotland the education system is a bit different, the cut off date for entry to school is the end of February, and so kids start school at age 4 and a half, no younger. They spend 7 years in Primary and between 4 and 6 years in Secondary. Elle has just made that big transition from Primary School to “The Academy”.

It might not seem unusual, to be using a Bunsen Burner in Science at the grand old age of 11, but Elle is completely blind, she has Lebers Congenital Amaurosis, diagnosed as a baby and has never had any vision except light perception.

Transition arrangements started 18 months ago in January 2013, with a big meeting at the Primary school while she was still in P6. We talked about finding Braille resources from all over the country and creating those that couldn’t be sourced. We talked about making physical changes to the building if necessary – eg Braille signage and tactile flooring. How to make it easy for Elle to navigate around the school safely, a risk assessment was to be carried out by VI teachers and mobility rehab workers. We talked about technology – a Braillenote Apex and Jaws text-to-speech screen reading software would be needed as well as printers, scanners, Braille embossers, a lap top a netbook, an iPad, talking kitchen equipment, talking calculators … the list was endless. We also talked about raising awareness amongst the staff and her peers. The wheels were put in motion and transition started to take shape.

photo 2Over the next few months, a lot was discussed, but it was hard to see how much of this apparent mountain of work was getting put into place, would they ever be ready? Looking back at primary it was easy to see that the school had a relatively cushy job, when Elle came to them she was just a wean, same as all the others, she had to learn to read and write just like all the other 4 year olds – ok using those funny raised dots that no one else could decipher. But the Academy, now that was a different matter, they had to be ready to go because she was going to have to hit the ground running. It was so important that they be ready … a scary time for all involved.

At the end of P6 Elle visited her Academy to meet the Heads of Department, to allay their fears about how she would access the curriculum, to give them a chance to meet her and vice versa. The school had never had a VI child before, so there were a lot of misconceptions about blind people and they also needed to know how bright she is and that it was going to be their responsibility to make sure she was challenged appropriately and not pushed into a corner and forgotten. About a year after that first meeting Elle attended her first bump up day, she had a great time. Soon after she prepared a power point presentation and went along to UWS to the teacher training college and gave a 10 minute talk to about 500 students in small groups about how she learns and she was so well received. At Easter, Elle and I went into the empty school and started mobility training with a new rehab worker who is visually impaired herself so totally gets it.

Now it know that Elle is settled in to secondary school, I have had updates from her VI teacher who is delighted at the positive response Elle has had from her new teachers who are being incredibly innovative in their teaching to make sure that my girl is included in all aspects of school life.

Now all I need to do is find a way to stop her spending all her lunch money on hot chocolate and muffins… it’s costing me a fortune !!!

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