United Kingdom - Article 24

Education systems

Equal access to national education, vocational training and lifelong learning systems
Educational settings - mainstream education
Education settings - special education
Collaboration between both systems
Teaching of compensatory skills made necessary by vision loss
Provision of accessible text books and other educational material
Provision of assistive technology

 

1. Equal access to:

1.1. National education system

It should be noted that over recent years devolution has allowed Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to develop (to differing degrees) their own policies and practices. Unless otherwise mentioned the information below concerns England.

The revised Special Educational Needs (SEN) Code of Practice (DfES, 2001d) took account of the special educational needs (SEN) provisions of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 and the experiences of using the previous Code. It made the following changes to the previous Code:

  • Introduced a stronger right for children with SEN to be educated at a mainstream school.
  • Placed new duties on local authorities (LAs) to arrange for parents of children with SEN to be provided with services offering advice and information and a means of resolving disputes.
  • Placed a new duty on schools and nursery education providers to tell parents when they are making special educational provision for their child.
  • Introduced a new right for schools and nursery education providers to request a statutory assessment of a child.

The Code contains separate chapters on provision in the early years, primary and secondary phases, and chapters on working in partnership with parents, with other agencies, and on pupil participation. It recommends that schools and LAs should adopt a graduated response, which encompasses an array of strategies, to match special educational provision to children's needs. This involves bringing increasing specialist expertise to bear on the difficulties that a child may be experiencing. However, schools should, other than in exceptional circumstances, make full use of all available classroom and school resources before expecting to call upon outside resources.

While SENDA introduced a legal duty for schools not to discriminate against disabled pupils and to draw up accessibility plans, the Disability Equality Duty 2005 introduced positive disability equality duties for all public bodies. It requires all publicly funded schools, colleges and early years settings to publish details (a 'scheme') to show how they are actively working to promote the participation and equality of all disabled users including pupils, staff and parents.

Equality Act 2010 will come into force in October 2010. The Equality Act will replace existing antidiscrimination laws, including the Disability Discrimination Acts 1995 and 2005 (DDA), with a single Act. The Disability Equality Duty will also no longer apply. Local Authorities will be required prepare an accessibility strategy for their maintained schools. This strategy must set out a plan for:

  • Increasing the extent to which disabled pupils can 'participate in the schools' curriculum
  • Improving the physical environment of the school for the purpose of increasing access for disabled children
  • Improving the delivery of information for disabled pupils

The accessibility strategy must be in writing, must be kept under review and must be implemented and adequate resources must be allocated for implementing the strategy.
The school's (including independent schools) 'responsible body' (governing body or proprietor) must also prepare an accessibility plan, with the same criteria applied to it as for the accessibility strategy.

Removing Barriers to Achievement (2004) is a ten-year government strategy for children with special educational needs and disability. The emphasis is on early intervention, partnership with parents and better training of teachers to understand and meet the needs of children with special educational needs and disability, especially in mainstream schools.

1.2. National vocational training and lifelong learning systems

During the past decade there have been many far-reaching changes within this sector. Many qualifications, policies and institutions have seen significant changes.

Under the Learning and Skills Act 2000 the Learning and Skills Council for England (LSC) and the National Council for Education and Training for Wales (which was known as the National Council – ELWa before being merged into the Welsh Department for Children Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills - DCELLS) became responsible for securing the provision of facilities for the education and training of young people aged 16-19, which are sufficient in quantity and adequate in quality. The Act includes a definition of learning difficulties similar to that in the Education Act 1996. It requires the LSC and the, then, National Council - ELWa to have regard to the needs of those with learning difficulties when securing further education provision, and to promote equality of opportunity between disabled persons and those who are not.

The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 received Royal Assent in November 2009 for the dissolution of the Learning and Skills Council by 2010 and the transfer of its functions on 1 April 2010 to local authorities and two agencies: The Young People's Learning Agency and the Skills Funding Agency.

In April 2010, there were major changes to post-sixteen learning. The Department for Children, Skills and Families following the General Election in May 2010 became the Department for Education. The Departments sets overall policy and priorities for 16-19 learning, agrees national funding allocation, sets national targets and reviews and agrees the performance of the new Young People's Learning Agency. The Learning and Skills Council which formerly funded further education, disappeared and responsibility for 16-19 funding and commissioning transferred to local authorities. The Skills Funding Agency is the single contractor for all post-nineteen education and training and Apprenticeship provision, outside Higher Education.

The fundamental aim of the national 14-19 reform programme is to ensure that all young people are prepared for success in life through their education and training by dramatically increasing participation and achievement among young people.

The current offer for 14-19 learning will be expanded to incorporate:

  • a new Diploma route
  • a Foundation Learning Tier of qualifications
  • new functional skills embedded throughout the system
  • strengthened GCSE's and A levels
  • a significant expansion of Apprenticeships.

A revised secondary curriculum will ensure students are well prepared for the 14-19 framework. All of the reforms will be underpinned by a new learning entitlement that will come into effect in 2013 which will mean that all young people must be able to access all new qualifications and curricula. The target for 2015 is for all young people up to the age of 18 to be participating in learning that will provide a recognized qualification preparing them for life and work.

In 2013 all young people in England will be required to continue in education or training to age 17. In 2015 they will continue in education or training to their 18th birthday. This change does not necessarily mean staying in school. Young people will be able to choose:

  • Full time education, such as in a school or college.
  • Work- based learning such as an apprenticeship.
  • Part-time education or training if they are employed, self-employed or volunteering for more than 20 hours a week.

The Skills Funding Agency is an agency of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills( BIS) and funds and regulates adult further education and skills training in England. It is a national organization and directs learners and employers to the right training for them and their workforce.

Wales has a wide-ranging 14-19 strategy which aims to reduce the number of people not in education, employment or training by introducing new Learning pathways, offering greater choice and flexibility to learners, and a wide range of courses and qualifications, both academic and vocational. This includes a blend of support mechanisms and the provision of Learning Coaches for the 14-19 age group. The introduction of the Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification will also offer greater opportunities to this group.

Wales has an all age careers service (Careers Wales) and provides the first fully functional all age bilingual online careers service. Careers Wales combines services inside and outside learning institutions. manages Learn Direct in Wales and leads on the development of education / business links more broadly.

The Equality Act 2010 will require all public bodies, including education providers and examination bodies, not to discriminate against disabled children and adults and to make reasonable adjustments for them.

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2. Educational settings

2.1.Mainstream education (please specify what support measures if any)

2.1.1. Primary

See Secondary

2.1.2. Secondary

The Education Act 1996 for England and Wales and the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 place the emphasis on educating children with special educational needs (SEN) alongside their peers in mainstream schools, wherever possible. The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001) (SENDA) (in England and Wales) and the Special Educational Needs and Disability (NI) Order 2005 (SENDO) in Northern Ireland strengthen the rights of children with special educational needs to be educated in mainstream education, where parents want this and the interests of other children can be protected. A small minority of children need more help than a mainstream school can provide.

Compulsory education
In England and Wales, local authorities (LAs) have responsibility for the education of children and young people with SEN attending schools from the age of two to 19 years. In Northern Ireland, this is the responsibility of the Education and Library Boards (ELBs). LAs and ELBs are required to take into account the wishes of parents in the choice of a particular school, whether mainstream or special, when deciding what type of provision to make. They must also consider the individual pupil's needs, the needs of his or her peers and the efficient use of resources.

2.1.3. University

See Vocational

2.1.4. Vocational training and lifelong learning

Depending on their individual needs, students over the age of 16 years may continue their education in mainstream schools, mainstream further education institutions or in special schools or colleges. Provision for students over compulsory school age who choose to continue their education in a further education institution in England is secured by the Learning and Skills Council for England (LSC) and, in Wales, by the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (DCELLS). In England, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) has a statutory duty to take account of the assessments of learning difficulties and disabilities that are arranged by the Connexions Service. Local Learning and Skills Councils monitor the arrangements that are in place in their areas to meet the needs of these young people. Close cooperation between local LSCs and the Connexions Service, drawing in post-16 providers, schools and local authorities, as necessary, should ensure that appropriate funding and support are in place for the provision set out in Transition Plans.

In Wales, DCELLS also plays a key role in the transition process through its relationship with Careers Wales. The Learning and Skills Act 2000 also places a duty on the Learning and Skills Council (England) and DCELLS (in Wales) to consider funding places for students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities at residential specialist colleges (LSC, 2002c and ELWa, 2003). (The functions of ELWa were merged with those of DCELLS in April 2006.)

As mentioned in 2.1.2.above, The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 introduced an entitlement to an Apprenticeship place for all suitably qualified young people between the age of 16 - 18. It placed a duty on schools to provide information, advice and guidance in respect of the National Apprenticeship Service( NAS). Skill: National Bureau for students with disabilities, is concerned as many disabled people are more likely to become "Apprentice ready" in the 19+ group, because of additional time needed to gain the necessary skills. Skill's key recommendations include:

  • NAS must focus attention on increasing disabled people over 18.
  • Entry requirements must be flexible so that disabled people have a fair opportunity to demonstrate their ability.
  • NAS should work with employers to raise awareness of the needs and available support for Apprentices with learning difficulties and / or disabilities as well as promote good practice sharing.

At university level, students are usually aged 18 plus and may study for vocational as well as academic degrees. Students with learning difficulties and/or disabilities are entitled to apply for Disabled Students Allowances which are awarded after an individual assessment of need. The money allows the individual to purchase extra equipment and human support to help access the course.

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2.2. Special education

2.2.1. Primary

2.2.2. Secondary

2.2.3. University

2.2.4. Vocational training and lifelong learning

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2.3. Collaboration between both systems

In 2007 RNIB commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) to carry out an online survey of local authority Visual Impairment services in England, Scotland and Wales. The aim was to find out how many blind and partially sighted pupils there are in England, Scotland and Wales and the educational provision and support provided for them. Results from this survey of local authorities estimates there are a total of 22,000 blind and partially sighted children and young people in England who require some form of specialist educational provision.
The majority of children and young people with visual impairments were educated within their home education authority. Of those educated outside, over two thirds had additional disabilities.
A greater proportion of primary school aged pupils were educated in mainstream settings compared to those of secondary school age.
Around 3 per cent of blind and partially sighted pupils, aged 5 to 16, used braille as their sole format for reading and writing and a further one per cent used braille alongside other formats such as large print.
A minority of pupils for whom data on educational settings was provided were in schools specifically resourced for children with visual impairment, or were based in special schools.

2.3.1. Primary

2.3.2. Secondary

2.3.3. University

2.3.4. Vocational training and lifelong learning

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3. Teaching of compensatory skills made necessary by vision loss

3.1. Subjects (Braille, computer, daily-living skills, mobility, etc.)

3.2. Training and certificates for visually impaired teachers (Braille, computer, daily-living skills, mobility, etc.)

Note: some of the statistics below had applied to Britain, but following amendments all now relate to England as indicated in 1.1. The majority of respondents to the above-mentioned RNIB survey tended to have specific responsibilities for visual impairment, but many had management responsibilities for a wider range of children with, particularly for children and young people who were hearing impaired. Staff in their VI teams, were, in many instances, also split across roles and, indeed, split across different teams within their authority. Not all staff deployed in management roles had Qualified Teacher of the Visually Impaired (QTVI) status. This was more evident where the management of the service was located in a generic sensory service, just over half (six) of the 11 staff reported in such posts had a QTVI qualification. By contrast, those who were specifically designated as Heads of VI services were generally reported as having full QTVI status. Team leaders, advisory staff and teachers based in schools were largely fully qualified, although around one in 20 of the peripatetic and other teaching staff working with children and young people with VI had no QTVI qualification and a further one in ten were in training to become a QTVI.

3.3. Training and certificates for visually impaired students (Braille, computer, daily-living skills, mobility, etc.)

The RNIB survey ‘Educational provision for blind and partially sighted children and young people in Britain: 2007' notes the following;
Provision of mobility education
Information from VI services revealed that there was no standard pattern for the assessment and provision of mobility education amongst children and young people with visual impairment. Indeed, the profile of assessment and provision was determined by a combination of child-centred factors (whether the child had a visual impairment or had MDVI and age, for instance) and service-level factors (whether mobility education was provided by social services or the VI service, how funding was arranged and availability of and access to appropriately trained staff). VI services most frequently reported that at least some children and young people with visual impairment (but not MDVI) were assessed (40 per cent in Britain as a whole, 39 per cent in England), with relatively few reporting no mobility assessment (two per cent in Britain, one per cent in England). Services were less likely to say that they provided a mobility assessment for all children with MDVI than for pupils with visual impairment. All VI services that said either all, or at least some of the children and young people who were assessed as needing mobility education received it.

Monitoring and evaluation
Despite the often complex nature of service provision and the diverse nature of education and support provided by VI services, monitoring and evaluation of service impact was not carried out by all services. Indeed, only half of the 131 VI services said that they evaluated the impact of the service in their authority, while many services did not provide a response to this question. Proportionally fewer VI services in Scottish authorities (six out of 17) reported evaluating service impact compared with VI services in Welsh authorities (seven out of 14) and VI services in English authorities (53 out of 100). Just over 50 VI services did not provide a response to this question. Where monitoring and evaluation was taking place, it was largely focused on the informal collection of data rather than through more formal means such as assessment tools. For example, provision of feedback questionnaires or evaluation forms was a common strategy for many VI services, particularly in terms of obtaining feedback from parents and carers and head teachers. However, feedback from the children and young people, themselves, was less commonplace.

Provision of braille services
It was clear that the use of braille continued to be a priority area for many VI services, despite the fact that five services said they currently had no braillists amongst their school population. For some young people, however, the use of braille was said not to be an educational option (for example, for pupils with severe learning difficulties). In total, 488 children and young people (pre-16) and 44 young people (post-16) across 85 VI services in Britain were identified as users of Braille [445 pre-16 and 42 post-16 across 65 VI services in England] as either:

  • their sole literacy format (one in 38 children with visual impairment between the ages of 5 and 16 in Britain and also in England); or
  • their main literacy format (one in 86 children with visual impairment between the ages of 5 and 16 in Britain, one in 88 in England).

Most primary and secondary-aged braillists were supported in their home authority and/or in a mainstream setting. However, a higher proportion of primary-aged than secondary-aged braillists educated in their home authority were based in local mainstream schools and supported by the peripatetic VI teacher, as opposed to mainstream schools with an additional resource base for blind and partially sighted pupils that had a QTVI on site. In comparison, braillists who were educated/supported outside their local authority tended to be in specialist schools or colleges designated for blind and partially sighted pupils.

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4. Provision of accessible text books and other educational material

A separate RNIB survey from 2006 entitled ‘Too little, too late - provision of school textbooks for blind and partially sighted pupils' gives the following data:

A range of approaches to organising the provision and funding of braille and large print textbooks to pupils in schools was identified. In some VI services organisation and funding was centralised and included a central resources department with dedicated staff responsible for both sourcing books from external providers and producing them in house. In others there was partial delegation of budgets to resourced or mainstream schools, each of which was responsible for the funding and provision of accessible textbooks for all blind and partially sighted pupils who attended the school. A few VI services had a coordinating role, but the VI budget was fully delegated to schools, which could choose whether or not to buy into VI service provision. Within each of these models, in many schools the day to day responsibility for obtaining and / or producing braille and large print textbooks for the pupils they supported was handed over to teaching assistants (TAs).

External provision of accessible textbooks
The majority of services and schools were still obtaining at least some of their accessible textbooks from external sources. Only 34 per cent of questionnaire respondents said that all or most of their large print textbooks were produced in house and 24 per cent said this was the case for braille.

However, the shortage of available textbooks in accessible formats was a problem for many respondents, 92 per cent of whom said they experienced difficulties in obtaining off the shelf large print textbooks “frequently” or “quite often”, while 85 per cent said this was the case for braille textbooks. The non-availability of accessible textbooks was also an emergent theme in the case studies. Maths and science were particularly problematic for questionnaire and case study respondents.

In-house production of accessible textbooks
In the vast majority of LAs there was some local production of accessible textbooks. Only four per cent of survey respondents said that there were no local production arrangements for large print books and only seven per cent said there was no local production of braille books.

In all of the case study services a considerable amount of in-house production took place, either by staff employed centrally by the VI service or by TAs working in mainstream schools. 65 per cent of questionnaire respondents said that TAs working with individual pupils carried out local production of large print books, and for braille books this figure was 52 per cent. Between 40 and 48 per cent said that designated staff employed centrally by the VI service or in resourced schools were responsible for in-house production of accessible textbooks.

4.2. Adaptation and transcription of the documents

Electronic format. The solution preferred by most respondents to the 'Too Little, Too Late' survey was for textbooks to be available in an electronic format, either direct from publishers or via an intermediary agency, so that copies could be produced locally. As was pointed out however, the file would need to be in a format that enables easy adaptation. The advantage of having a central agency holding the file would be that people would only have to go to one location to obtain it, rather than having to trawl different sites or go direct to individual publishers.

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5. Provision of assistive technology

5.1. Primary

For pupils with a statement of Special educational need the statement may detail what resources must be provided by the school and/or VI service. In the 2002 Quality Standards in Education: Support Services for Children and Young People with Visual Impairment' issued by the (then) Department for Education and Skills, standard SY10 states there should be evidence that: " pupils have access to appropriate specialist equipment and that they are trained to use it independently (e.g. Low Vision Aids, Close Circuit Televisions and adaptive Information and Communication Technology)".

5.2. Secondary

For pupils with a statement of Special educational need the statement may detail what resources must be provided by the school and/or VI service. In the 2002 Quality Standards in Education: Support Services for Children and Young People with Visual Impairment' issued by the (then) Department for Education and Skills, standard SY10 states there should be evidence that: " pupils have access to appropriate specialist equipment and that they are trained to use it independently (e.g. Low Vision Aids, Close Circuit Televisions and adaptive Information and Communication Technology)".

5.3. University

Colleges are legally obliged to provide appropriate technology for learners. Following assessments of learning and study needs for individual learners with learning difficulties and / or disabilities, colleges can draw down additional learning support funding from local authorities. In higher education, Higher Education Funding Council for England provides funding for universities. Individual disabled students are also eligible to apply for the Disabled Students Allowances before commencing their courses. This is a grant and is awarded after an assessment which considers course requirements and the needs of the student. There are three components: specialist equipment allowance, non-medical helper's allowance and general disabled students allowances. Further information from www.direct.gov.uk - search under Disabled Students Allowances.

5.4. Vocational training and lifelong learning

See 5.3.

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(Sources - http://www.rnib.org.uk/aboutus/Research/reports/edemp/Pages/edemp.aspx
http://www.icevi-europe.org/national/uk.html
http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice/eurybase_en.php#uk)
Our thanks to RNIB for their valuable contribution.

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