Memorandum from the Royal National Institute
for the Blind
SPECIAL NEEDS EDUCATION
Thank you for inviting the Royal National Institute
for the Blind to present its views in relation to special needs
education in Northern Ireland.
Your request comes at a stage of significant
development for the work of the Royal National Institute for the
Blind in Northern Ireland.
From 5 January 1998 RNIB has established an
Education Centre in Belfast as part of a network of Education
Centres which are being developed throughout the UK to provide
services for visually impaired children and young people, their
families and those who work with them.
The new education legislation in Northern Ireland
provides many opportunities for blind and partially sighted children
and young people to get more from education. RNIB aims to ensure
that this legislation is actually acted upon in order to improve
I enclose with this submission a copy of "A
case for change"
which is the report of a consultation exercise undertaken by RNIB
into the range and quality of educational opportunities for visually
impaired children in Northern Ireland. This document we feel should
be included in your deliberations as it raises key issues and
concerns as well as recommendations for improving provision.
1. AIMS OF
(i) To highlight key issues and concerns
regarding the educational provision for visually impaired children
in Northern Ireland.
(ii) To summarise recommendations for improving
RNIB carried out a wide ranging 18 month consultation
in Northern Ireland regarding educational provision for visually
impaired children in the Province. The findings of this research
are contained in the enclosed report, "A case for change",
which was launched in November 1996.
As a consequence of this report and the new
legislative framework concerning special educational needs contained
in the 1996 Education Order, RNIB decided to establish an Education
Centre in Northern Ireland with a view to securing a substantial
increase in the range and quality of educational opportunities
for visually impaired children, including those with additional
difficulties in Northern Ireland.
From 5 January 1998 the Education Centre team
was established and forms part of a network of long-established
Education Centres throughout the UK. The Education Centre aims
to collaborate with statutory and voluntary agencies to achieve
improved educational provision while providing a number of additional
services where these do not already exist.
The submission highlights the main issues and
concerns in relation to educational provision for visually impaired
children in Northern Ireland and summarises recommendations for
improving provision. The enclosed report "A case for change"1
provides more detailed information on all issues raised in this
3. CURRENT PROVISION
Jordanstown School for visually and hearing
impaired children has been the main service provider for visually
impaired children. Currently 81 visually impaired children attend
The Jordanstown Advisory Service (consisting
of the equivalent of two full-time teachers) provides an outreach
service to over 260 visually impaired pupils in mainstream and
special schools. There are 3.2 peripatetic teachers for the visually
impaired. One covering SEELB, one in the SELB and 1.2 covering
the WELB. By comparison there are 24 peripatetic teachers for
the hearing impaired supporting broadly similar numbers of children.
3.1 Key Issues Regarding Current Provision
3.1.1 Lack of opportunities, especially for
educationally blind children, to be integrated into mainstream
3.1.2 Very low levels of peripatetic support
for integrated pupils.
3.1.3 Very limited support for multi-disabled
visually impaired children attending local special schools for
children with severe learning difficulties.
3.1.4 Assessment for, and provision of, technology
3.1.5 Access to grammar school education.
3.1.6 Lack of an effective mechanism to review
provision and effect change.
3.1.7 Lack of clarity about the responsibilities
of the Department and the Boards with regard to provision.
3.1.8 Uncertainty about which agency is ultimately
accountable to parents.
3.1.9 Funding mechanisms which favour the continuation
of segregated provision for severely visually impaired children.
3.1.10 The lack of power of the designated special
education needs officers' group in seeking to operate as a decision-making
3.1.11 Lack of services controlled and managed
by the Boards.
4.1 ReviewWe recommend that the Department
takes a lead in developing a review framework to be implemented
by individual Boards. It is our view that such a review should
be a staged process establishing current caseload, investigating
under-identification and exploring the quality of current provision
so that, at the end of the exercise, the Boards are fully equipped
to determine appropriate service delivery structures and levels.
4.2 Service delivery structureWe recommend
4.2.1 In accordance with the 1996 Order, the
Boards, individually rather than collectively, take full responsibility
for identifying and meeting the needs of visually impaired children
in their areas;
4.2.2 The Boards adopt a two-tier model of provision
wherein they directly provide and manage a range of "core"
services and secure, by means of purchaser/provider arrangements,
additional "specialist" services;
4.2.3 The present high level of liaison between
the Boards is maintained with a view to co-operation in the planning
and delivery of "specialist" services.
4.3 FundingWe recommend that:
4.3.1 The Department urgently reviews funding
arrangements with a view to routeing all funding for visual impairment
directly to the Boards thereby enabling them to develop "core"
services of their own and to purchase additional services from
4.3.2 The Department discontinues the current
system of indirectly funding Jordanstown School and Advisory Service
through the North Eastern Board's block grant and diverts funding
to the individual Boards to allow them to determine provision
as they see fit.
4.3.3 The Boards purchase services from Jordanstown
School and Advisory Service and other agencies on a purchaser/provider
basis within the context of service level agreements.
4.3.4 The Department plans for an increase in
funding for visual impairment education to enable the Boards to
address the existing gaps and weaknesses in provision.
4.3.5 The Boards explore opportunities for the
reallocation of resources within special educational needs since
there is evidence of significant disparities between services.
4.4 In-service trainingWe recommend that:
4.4.1 The Department initiates a strategy to
substantially increase the supply of specialist teachers in the
short term and to maintain an adequate supply by means of a rotational
programme of recruitment to courses; and
4.4.2 The Boards ensure that funding is made
available to provide additional training (including braille) for
classroom assistants working with visually impaired children.
4.5 Improving provisionWe recommend that:
4.5.1 Each Board manages its own peripatetic
team providing "core" services including advisory and
direct teaching support in both mainstream and local special schools.
4.5.2 Each Board reviews inter-agency arrangements
with Health and Social Service Boards to ensure that all referrals
come directly to them.
4.5.3 Each Board initiates a proactive programme
to ensure that all visually impaired children are identified and
4.5.4 Each Board establishes criteria to assist
in determining the nature and level of support required by individual
4.5.5 Each Board ensures that, in accordance
with the 1996 Order, blind and partially sighted children have
the opportunity of appropriately supported mainstream placements.
4.5.6 NICCEA establishes tendering arrangements
to ensure that basic teaching and assessment materials are available
in braille, on tape and in large print, to support the curriculum.
4.5.7 Each Board reviews its current further
education provision with the objective of improving provision
for visually impaired students at local further education colleges;
4.5.8 Each Board defines and publishes quality
standards for its services for the benefit of parents and professionals.
We trust that the issues raised in this report
will be seriously considered by members of the Committee.
RNIB's approach in establishing an Education
Centre in Northern Ireland is to seek to collaborate pro-actively
with the existing statutory and voluntary agencies to achieve
an improved range and quality of educational service for visually
4 April 1998
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