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'Lack of support' for children with sight problems

Figures show a record number of schoolchildren require extra help for visual impairment.

By Ryan Maher

A charity has called for greater investment to help school children with visual impairment.

Figures show the number of pupils who require additional support for their vision is at an all-time high.

According to statistics from the Scottish Government, 4574 pupils required additional support for their vision in 2018.

These figures have more than doubled in the last ten years, with 2005 vision impaired pupils in 2010.

During this time, a study by the Scottish Sensory Centre revealed the number of Qualified Teachers of Children and Young People with Vision Impairment dropped from 88 in 2012, to 65 in 2016.

Mark O'Donnell, chief executive of vision charity Royal Blind, believes more support is needed to match these trends.

He said: "It's increasingly urgent. The Scottish Government's own statistics show the numbers have been increasing significantly and the number of qualified teachers hasn't kept pace.

"It's a challenge. I recognise the investment for that isn't easy but I think the unmet need is becoming more evident."

Royal Blind launched their first partnership with East Lothian Council in 2017 to offer regular one-to-one support for pupils with visual impairment in mainstream education.

'Before they came, I wasn't too confident in doing work, but now I am.'
Chris Dowdeswell, pupil

Chris Dowdeswell, 12, from Musselburgh, has been a beneficiary of the service over the last year.

"Before they came, I wasn't too confident in doing work, but now I am," he said.

"If I was to go into high school after primary five, I don't think I would be too excited or very confident.

"But now (moving to high school next year) I'm looking forward to it and I'm confident."

Ophthalmologist Professor Gordon Dutton said the rise is partially down to a greater survival rate of premature babies.

He said: "A very small proportion of children with premature birth, especially those that are born very prematurely can have a brain injury as part of the overall picture.

"There's been a great improvement in survival of young children who've had brain injury and this is the main cause of the increase."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We are committed to ensuring all children and young people receive the support they need to reach their learning potential. 

"Children and young people should learn in the environment which best suits their needs, whether that is in a mainstream or special school setting. 

"There is a range of provision already in place in Scotland to meet the wide range of children and young people's needs, including for pupils with a vision impairment.

"The Scottish Government provides over £500,000 to voluntary sector organisations to support children and young people with sensory impairment and £150,000 per year to the Scottish Sensory Centre to support training to increase the capacity of staff in schools so they can provide effective support to pupils with a sensory impairment."

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