The VI talk Facebook group really is a goldmine of discussions, questions and the sharing of help, experiences, opinions and information. It certainly gives me inspiration to think, ponder and from time to time write on various issues that have been discussed and raised.
Education is a subject that is very close to my heart. As someone who has previously worked in further and adult education, I always take a broad view of developments and provision for VI people; whether in Mainstream or in specific VI provision.
From the warnock report on education in the late 70s, the move towards integrated and more latterly inclusive education has been taken up by local authorities accross the land. Backed by central government through parliamentary statutes, the trend to ensuring that visually impaired children and young people receive their education in mainstream provision has gone on a pace. However, whereas the picture takes on a rosy glow on the surface, the detail has been more confusing, experientially inconsistant and fairly distorted underneath. Inclusive education is primarily meant to open up greater social learning for many visually impaired children, but due to the inconsistancy of provision, support and input from local authorities, the experience for all varies so much accross the land. It has made me think and hypothesise that ‘Education authorities feel they have created true inclusion by placing visually impaired children into mainstream settings’. what they do not take into account are they support mechanisms that would make such a placement true, effective and supportive to the young people and their families.
In many schools, visually impaired children are not allowed to do certain sports, access subjects like domestic science/cookery, woodwork/crafts and drama/expressive arts. Why? Well, often they’re seen as a health and safety hazard; in other cases its a matter of time and resources. This is badly letting the child/young person down because it is in subjects like these that the greatest amound of self confidence and independence skills can be developed and gained. In countering some of this, many children are provided with a one to one support teacher, which although enables them to access many subjects,, doesn’t necessarily help in promoting effective socialisation with their peers (obviously this depends on the amount of support given).
It is crucial that in enabling support, the powers that be in education departments up and down the land should take a more long term view on how children develop, what skills are needed and should appreciate that skills are gained through experience not through the denial of accessing certain parts of the curriculum on grounds of perceived risk and time loss.
Some education authorities do get it, but many don’t and there have been too many examples of where children and young people are struggling badly in schools and colleges that see themselves as doing no wrong because they have provided a place in their establishment to the young person in the first place.
I think inclusive/mainstream education does have a massive part to play in creating true social inclusion. However, this will not take place if the true meaning of inclusion is not adhered to. Although, I didn’t go into mainstream education until I was 18, I had the opportunity to take a whole range of subjects (including domestic science and woodwork), was allowed to take risks, play sports and gain a range of independence skills that have proven extremely helpful in life. Yes, the social opportunities were limited in mixing with sighted kids, but the mechanisms were put in place to cope.