Across the country, teachers are working hard to prepare for children to return to classrooms. This is a difficult time for everyone involved in education, including teachers and non-teaching staff, children and families. Life as we knew it before within education will be changed for the foreseeable future.
We are more than aware of the new challenges for all the children. However, for pupils with a Vision Impairment (VI) these challenges are even greater. Although no two pupils or two school environments are the same, we hope this general advice may help you to consider how you can support children with a vision impairment within your school and classroom.
1. Communicate openly with children and parents
The wellbeing of children returning to school is of equal importance, if not greater, than their need for education. Children with a vision impairment may have more specific concerns than other children with regard to the changes. They will also have the same general concerns as their peers. Open conversations regarding these concerns will be necessary. Parents may also need reassurance and support from teachers regarding their own concerns.
2. Speak with QTVIs
QTVI’s can offer specific advice and support for children with a vision impairment within the school. Once your school has a plan for opening, it is worth contacting their QTVI to ask for support and advice and to check that plans are safe and appropriate. If you have previous plans and advice provided to you by a QTVI, read over the assessments and plans to ensure that new
routines and plans within school are appropriate for children with a vision impairment.
3. Think carefully about changes to the school layout
Many changes are being planned for moving around school, entering and exiting, and how the building and classrooms are set out. It is important that teachers communicate these changes regularly to children who have a vision impairment.
One change that the government is suggesting is operating ‘one-way’ systems within school corridors, etc. If children with a vision impairment have learned a way of moving around school, they may need more time to practise moving around using the new ‘one-way’ system. Communicate your plans with parents and ensure that the child can practise this movement around school in a safe way. Now, more than ever, corridors need to be clutter free.
New classroom layouts
Guidance advises than all non-essential equipment should be stored, and classrooms should be decluttered. For a child with a vision impairment, who knew where equipment was stored and could move around the classroom with confidence, the new layout will present many challenges. They will need to learn and be taught what that new layout is like, and be given the opportunity to navigate through the classroom. Proposals also suggest that classes should be split and there should be a maximum of 15 children in each classroom. It would make sense to ensure that a child with a vision impairment remains within their familiar/usual classroom, to avoid having to learn new routes to places such as toilets.
Keeping doors open
Government advice suggests that classrooms should be adequately ventilated and that they could “prop doors open, where safe to do so (bearing in mind
fire safety and safeguarding), to limit use of door handles and aid ventilation.” It is important to consider if this would pose a risk to a child with a vision impairment within your class.
New entry and exit points
On return, children may be required to use different entry and exit points than they were before. If a child has navigated through school using certain entry and exit points, is it possible for children with a vision impairment to use the same exits on their return? If not, when staggering start and finish times, be mindful of appropriate and safer times when a child with a vision impairment can learn to navigate their way to and from these new entry and exit points.
In the published document, the government point out that “some children and young people will need additional support to follow these measures (for example, routes around school marked in braille).” Large print signs will also be useful for those who are not braille users. Teachers should communicate plans with parents of children with a vision impairment.
4. Consider hand-washing arrangements
There is an increased need to maintain good standards of personal hygiene, including frequent hand-washing. Allowing a child with a vision impairment to go first or last will help to avoid difficulties with social distancing. If a child in your class requires support with maintaining personal hygiene, it is recommended that settings “ensure that help is available for children and young people who have trouble cleaning their hands independently.” Some children may need supervision and additional time.
5. Think about lunchtime and playtime arrangements
Your school will have plans for the way that playtimes and lunchtimes operate – this will have changed significantly from pre-lockdown. It is more important than ever that wherever possible children can eat independently. If a child has packed lunches it is worth considering what type of food children have in their lunchbox and communicating this with parents. A reminder to parents to choose drinks without straws that are difficult to put in, practise opening packets of crisps with their children and make all items manageable and mess free – this will help children with a vision impairment have lunch independently.
The way that children play will be dramatically altered. Each school is devising new ways for children to remain socially distanced at break and lunchtimes. All children will find this a real challenge, but for children with a vision impairment, this will pose even more difficulties.
Teachers will be aware of the children who will have difficulties adhering to social distancing and adapting to the new routines outside of the classroom. An additional risk assessment may be required for these children for the unstructured times. Additional time should be spent explaining to the child with a VI the expectations at playtime and showing them where they are and are not allowed to go.
If a child uses a mobility aid (eg. a cane) this should be strongly encouraged during break times to aid social distancing.
6. Raising awareness across the school community
In primary schools, most children will already be aware if there is someone with a vision impairment; but, with the consent of parents, it might be worth a reminder to other children of the difficulties and challenges that may be faced by the vision impaired community when social distancing, both in and out of school. It may be a good opportunity for more education surrounding sight loss.
In secondary schools, this could pose a greater challenge with larger numbers of children. A potential change to timetables will hopefully mean that there is
less opportunity for mixing on corridors, etc. therefore reducing the difficulties. Children could potentially be allowed to finish lessons earlier than classmates to move safely to the next lesson. For children who would find this too difficult, they would need to be safely accompanied around school, but again this decision should be based upon individual needs.
7. Think about issues regarding the sharing of resources
Once in the classroom, the sharing of resources and equipment will not be allowed. All children will be provided with their own equipment. For a child with a vision impairment, this may be difficult if they cannot see which equipment another child has used, and which equipment belongs to them.
As stated previously, this may be a good opportunity for sight loss to be discussed openly by teachers in the classroom and highlight the difficulties faced by the vision impaired community. Children tend to be really helpful and supportive when they know the reasons for doing something. It may not have occurred to other children that some individuals may have additional difficulties with things that they take for granted.
Having a separate storage space for a child with VI’s equipment would also help them to know which equipment is theirs. Marking their equipment with a tactile sticker (eg. a dot of fluffy material or sandpaper), or giving them a contrasting colour pencil case (if they have some functional vision) will also help the child locate equipment.
8. Outdoor learning for children with a vision impairment
Outdoor learning will be high on the agenda, where possible, for many schools. Like lunch and break times, this will need to be fully risk-assessed on an individual basis. Outdoor lessons will need to take account of accessibility for all.
Resources will need to be accessible for those with a vision impairment. Differing levels of lighting outside could cause potential difficulties so it would be a good time to read over any assessments or information sent over from the child’s QTVI to refresh your understanding of their needs. Some of these things may have been automatic within the classroom and will require fresh
assessments to ensure that you are meeting their needs in the outdoor environment.
If a child has a learning aid in the classroom, such as screen share, teachers will need to adapt lessons to ensure that the child has the same access to learning and resources in the outside learning space as they would within the classroom.
9. Practising of independence skills
More than ever, children will be required to have increased independence within school. Now is a great time to remind parents of the need to practise some of those skills that will be more important than ever when back in school. Can they fasten their own coat, wash their hands independently, go to the toilet by themselves? For some children, this would not be appropriate, but, for many, it would be a great time to try! Teachers should explain to parents why this will be necessary under the new rules and guidance.
– 29 May 2020 (produced by Henshaws)
– 16 June 2020 – Adapted for use by Joseph Clarke Educational Service