Young learners who are vision impaired face additional challenges that can inhibit learning. At NCW we recognise what these challenges are and ensure they are overcome on a daily basis.
Time to Process Learning
Accessing and processing learning that cannot be done visually can take longer. As each student has a personalised programme we are able to balance the number of academic subjects with the need to develop the skills for independence so that the learning becomes lifelong. Some students benefit from an additional year in the Sixth form in order to complete their qualifications and complete the learning of skills for independence. As a residential setting, NCW offers a Waking Day Curriculum meaning that learning extends beyond the school day. Each weekday after school finishes there is a team of staff to support homework, practising musical instruments and doing independent reading or studying. Some students have additional support with homework, accessing a higher level of support from a Learning Support Assistant (LSA). Care staff also support students with their homework, communicating with form tutors to ensure that students are progressing.
Incidental Learning Opportunities
It is believed that 80% of a sighted person’s learning is derived visually, with the whole observed before the detail. Tactile learners only experience what they can touch and so the reverse is more typical in that the detail is “seen” first and different parts need to be connected in order to make sense. The teacher at NCW strives to think outside the box in order to pre-empt the loss of incidental learning and to help make connections. Through training, experience and skill our teachers are able to facilitate that learning using teaching resources and practices that have been developed over many years of working with young people who are vision impaired.
Inclusion in Trips and Activities
At NCW we place a huge importance on trips and both curricular and extra-curricular activities for the development of learning, widening experiences, self-esteem, work-life balance, interest and enjoyment. A range of visits and trips forms a key part of the curriculum. In Year 7 every alternate week students go off-campus for an extended Humanities lesson visiting places of interest such as places of worship or historic buildings. Languages exchange trips take place to partner schools in Paris, Marburg and Alicante and cultural and educational visits to countries of historic interest such Poland, to learn about the Second World War. In Key Stage 3, each year group attends a residential activity camp where they learn team building skills and do exciting things such as raft building, water boarding, horse riding and bush craft. There are many opportunities to attend concerts, the theatre, sports events, public speaking events, mock trial competitions – and many more. There are a wide range of musical events, sporting clubs, activities and clubs that cater for other interests such as art, drama, computer programming, languages and a reading group.
In lessons we expect every student to participate fully because the lessons are fully accessible. Some students arrive at NCW not having learned effective group work skills because they have been used to working in isolation and so group work skills are taught to ensure full participation. Class sizes are small, typically less than 10 students, which means that students can have a highly differentiated, personalised approach in addition to the maximum opportunity to participate in the class. Every student is expected to participate in extra-curricular activities. Students must participate in at least one physical activity per week. We also ensure that participation on optional trips and outings is equitable so that every student gets opportunities to try something new.
Appropriate levels of Support
In some settings, the allocation of a teaching assistant to support the student’s learning can in itself be a barrier if the student is over-reliant on that support, and the support does not encourage self-advocacy and independence. Additionally, spending a significant amount of time with an adult support worker can be a barrier to social inclusion making the student feel isolated.
At NCW some students are allocated LSA support in the classroom if they have significant need or do not yet have an effective medium of work. The level of that support is differentiated between lessons and type of support offered (pre-lesson, in the classroom or with homework). In pairs work, students work with another student. It is important that the teacher can assess what the student has produced themselves and this may include mistakes and misconceptions which inform the teacher’s planning of subsequent learning. Outside lessons, unless there is an additional physical disability which prevents it, students make their own way around the campus with friends and are not guided by support staff between lessons or at break times – where they able to socialise freely with their peers.
Sometimes, students with a vision impairment may encounter low expectations of themselves. At NCW there is a focus on goals and ambitions from year 7 onwards to achieve good results, go to University or on to an apprenticeship or to have a career. This is in line with guidance in the SEND Code of Practice (7.37) which states that:
Being supported towards greater independence and employability can be life-transforming for children and young people with SEN. This support needs to start early, and should centre around the child or young person’s own aspirations, interests and needs. All professionals working with them should share high aspirations and have a good understanding of what support is effective in enabling children and young people to achieve their ambitions.
The code of practice also recommends (8.7) that from Year 9 onwards there should be:
High aspirations about employment, independent living and community participation should be developed through the curriculum and extra-curricular provision.
At NCW our Careers Education Coordinator mentors students, advises and assists in the process of exploring career options. We recognise the importance of work experience and at Key Stage 3 students undertake small tasks around College, whilst Key Stage 4 students take on more significant responsibilities and undertake a work placement after their GCSE exams. In Year 12 students have another work experience placement and for some students there may be longer term placements, particularly for those on vocational courses. There is a strong focus on community participation with students contributing to charity work and volunteering. There is an annual World of Work Employment event held at the College where every student is involved, participating in workshops and meeting potential employers from a diverse range of industries.