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“A normalising effect” – How six visually impaired pupil advocates changed their mainstream primary school

We hear how staff at Craneswater Junior School endeavoured to level the academic and social playing field for a group of pupils with visual impairments...

  • “A normalising effect” – How six visually impaired pupil advocates changed their mainstream primary school
  • “A normalising effect” – How six visually impaired pupil advocates changed their mainstream primary school

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Sally Turner

Inclusion Manager (SENCO)
We currently have six visually impaired pupils at the school. When our first VI pupil arrived six years ago, we embraced the challenge of building up our provision, enhancing it over time and looking at how we could be more inclusive.

Our VI pupils include some who are in the process of learning Braille and others who require large print resources and enlargement facilities. Providing that kind of differentiated support isn’t always easy, particularly when it comes to SATs papers and other test materials. It’s a huge job that’s overseen by our VI specialist TA, Caz Gilmore, with assistance from another full-time TA.

Our VI children each have their own classroom folders, into which are placed enlarged versions of every worksheet and resource they’ll require for that day’s lessons. They also all have their own iPads. These connect to our smartboards so that they can access whole class teaching during lessons, and be included in assembles when a presentation is being given or song lyrics are being displayed. Caz works closely with the teaching staff and will often take part in planning meetings, where upcoming learning content will be examined and decisions made as to how that material will need to be taught and delivered to our VI children.

Level playing field

Twice every half term we receive visits from a VI service linked to our local authority, Portsmouth City Council, which provides us with reports detailing the needs of each child. These are then shared with teachers as part of the children’s individual education plans.

Each year the LA will conduct a site survey to ensure that everything is as safe as it can be for our VI children. Visitors to the school often notice the many bright yellow lines located throughout our interiors, because our building is constructed across different levels and includes multiple stairways. Getting that safety side of things right is obviously very important for us.

At the start of each term we’ll update all support staff on the different needs of our VI children, so that our adult supervisors at break and lunch times are aware. We do the same with our non-VI children, letting them know that one of our VI children might bump into them by accident, not because they’re being rude.

There’s also our ‘Buddy Bench’ – some of our VI children are unable to scan the playground when looking for their friends, so the Buddy Bench is intended as a useful meeting point.

Our transitions can be quite involved. Here in Portsmouth we have access to someone specialising in mobility work and life skills,, who will visit the VI pupils throughout their time here to help them practice their road skills and transport knowledge. If they’ll need to ride a bus to their new school, she’ll practise taking them to the local bus station and show them around a working bus depot.

In everything we do and provide – from including VI pupils in our residentials, to making sure they can fully access PE lessons – we try to maintain a level playing field.

Caz Gilmore

TA and visual impairment specialist
When I arrived we had two children in the upper years with VI. I’ve now been here for four years, and my role has expanded as the number of VI children has increased. When we found ourselves with six VI children on roll last September, it made me think, That sounds like a club…

Craneswater is a big school. If you’re the only VI child in your class or year group, there’s a limit to the amount of peer support you’ll receive. When I put the idea of forming a club to the children, they were very enthusiastic about it. Our first session involved them talking about what they had in common and what resources they all used, so that they knew someone else in the school used big bold pens or a writing slope, or were learning Braille. I then asked them to come up with a name for the club – they chose MeteorEyes – and to design their own logo.

The club usually meets around once a month for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Initially, I’d organise various arts and sports activities, but as time’s gone on we’ve gradually built up a number of community links outside the school.

For example, there’s a local artist called Clarke Reynolds (@3dpointlism on Twitter) who’s visually impaired and specialises in tactile art. He was doing a large community art project last year, and we asked if he’d be willing to work with our VI children. He ended up spending three afternoons with us, during which we made a huge tactile canvas that’s now hanging in the school reception with a sign beside it saying ‘Please do touch’. We’ve also visited other schools that have VI children to take part in sports events and Christmas parties.

Self-advocacy

The children have previously hosted whole school assemblies that have included PowerPoint presentations and short sketches that the children put together. The purpose of these is to teach the whole school,

‘This is what it’s like for us. We can achieve the same as you – we just might not see you when we’re running about in the playground.’

The club has had a big impact on the children’s ability to advocate for themselves within the wider school community. They’re now able to receive peer support from each other, with the older children having become really good peer leaders for the younger ones coming up through the school. They’re able to share some of the things they do in MeteorEyes sessions with the wider school community, such as the aforementioned artwork, and are better prepared for answering questions from other pupils.

One of our activities involved MeteorEyes members placing a series of Braille stickers around the school. We revealed this during one of our hosted assemblies, and for the next few weeks had children running up to us whenever they found one on a bin, on a sign or on an office door. The education and advocacy work of our VI children has had a normalising effect on the rest of school – ‘You’ve got pencils to write with, I’ve got pens. You all know why, now let’s move on.’ I think they walk a little bit taller as a result.

Custom eyes

Caz Gilmore describes how the MeteorEyes club has embraced the CustomEyes service available from Guide Dogs

For a while we’d use all the enlarged print resources we could get our hands on. However, our VI pupils’ font requirements range from 18 all the way up to 48, while readily available large print books tend to be very much ‘one size fits all’.

During World Book Day one year, we discovered that the CustomEyes service provided World Book Day tokens, making it the first year that our children were able to properly take part. CustomEyes books look just like standard books, aside from the fact that they’re slightly larger. The font type, size, line spacing and paper colour can all be tailored to what each child needs.

We have class readers each term for every year group, which I can now source for our VI children so that they’re able to have a book just like everybody else. Some of the children are really enthusiastic readers, so it’s important that we can feed that hunger.


For more details about the CustomEyes range from Guide Dogs, visit guidedogs.org.uk/customeyes

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