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Help with SEN

Visual impairment - a few considerations

A visual impairment is complex and the eye condition may not be understood by key people. It can be highly variable and change throughout the day. Its effect can become more prominent and pervading at times of stress. For example, when your child or young person is meeting deadlines, performing during exams or when generally under pressure, seeing can become harder.

Similarly, seeing can also become worse when your child or young person is tired. This may have an impact on performance later in the day. Therefore, mornings may be best for visual tasks or very demanding work.

Eye tests

The same considerations should be borne in mind during eye tests. A visual acuity score obtained during a stressful eye test may be affected. It should not therefore be wholly relied upon to set expectations in learning or allocate resources.

Enlarging materials

If your child or young person has poor visual acuity enlarging things will make them bigger but not necessarily make things clearer. No amount of enlargement can make things look the same as they do to someone with normal sight. Enlargement helps to carry out tasks, but it does not fully compensate for the impairment.

Specialist assessments

Your child or young person requires regular visual assessments. These should be written partly or wholly in functional terms. That is, how does the act of seeing impact on your child’s or young person’s life?

An assessment should take place in different conditions and outside the sometimes ideal environment of a clinic. This might include for example a functional sight test in the classroom, a place without natural light and in sunlight.

Many believe that correct lighting is the most important low vision aid. Inappropriate lighting can seriously impact upon your child or young person accessing visual information. Advice on lighting should, therefore, be built into an assessment.

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.

Specialist Reports

Specialist reports should be written in functional terms so it can be clearly seen how findings impact on your child’s or young person’s life.

Specialist reports should be written in terms of objectives, outcomes and recommended support so that any support allocated can be monitored and progress evaluated.

An experienced optometrist

If your child or young person wears glasses and has a visual impairment it is extremely important that a highly skilled and experienced optometrist assesses sight and fits glasses. Your child or young person may, for example, adopt an unusual head position to maximize vision which means that s/he may not be using the correct part of the lens. An experienced optometrist will ensure that this is appropriately addressed.

Optometrist assessment

An optometrist should assess residual visual in functional terms. A report should contain your child’s or young person’s:

  • Functional history
  • Unaided vision
  • Refraction
  • Visual acuity
  • Near acuity
  • Contrast sensitivity
  • Visual fields – central and peripheral

The medical status of the child or young person may be reviewed but the optometrist’s role is about visual function not medical diagnosis or prognosis.

Based on your child’s or young person’s visual status will be the guidance on teaching methods, presentation and the modification of learning materials. Specifically, information should be made available in terms of how your child or young person will read, write and generally access information during the whole of the nursery/school/college day.

Qualified Teacher of the Visually Impaired (QTVI) report

Reports produced by a low vision teacher should include information about how well your child or young person can function in the learning environment. A report should cover the following:

  • Any curriculum adaptations, strategies and modifications necessary
  • Arrangements for curriculum access
  • Special arrangements for exams and Standard Assessment Tasks (SATs)
  • Referrals to other agencies
  • Ongoing monitoring and evaluating progress
  • Any necessary environmental modifications
  • Appropriate adaptations and modifications to materials
  • Low Vision Aids
  • Specialist equipment
  • Appropriate setting
  • Who will support/deliver specialist teaching
  • Time allocations
  • Appropriate study aids

Suggestions

  • Everything should be written in clear, specific and quantifiable terms.
  • A comprehensive report should also take into account the thoughts of the child, young person, parents and any other relevant professionals involved.
  • Any independent reports produced should be used appropriately and taken into account by the school, college and local authority. If you feel that this is not happening you should question it.
  • Don’t assume appropriate support will automatically be given.

Appropriate support

Here are a few general points for you to consider when deciding if your child’s or young person’s needs are being met.

  • Is the learning environment appropriate regarding lighting, colour contrast and layout?
  • Is information, for example board work or worksheets, delivered and written in an accessible format?
  • Does your child or young person have the specialist equipment such as low vision aids, specialist ICT or a sloping desk highlighted as necessary during assessment?
  • Are lessons delivered in a way your child or young person can follow, i.e. does s/he sit close to the front or at the back of the class and is the pace of the lesson appropriate?

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.

Individual education Plans (IEPs)

An IEP is a planning, teaching and reviewing document for everyone to use when supporting your child or young person. Short-term targets should be identified that relate to the needs of each individual. The IEP then details the extra help your child or young person will receive in order to meet these targets.

IEPs are not used everywhere in the UK although some system of target setting should be employed.

An IEP should record strategies employed to enable your child or young person to progress. These include:

  • Short-term targets based on the nature of your child’s or young person’s individual needs to be achievement in a given time
  • Teaching strategies for both school or college and home delivery
  • Provision to be used and put in place to include:

    • Programs
    • Materials
    • Equipment
    • Staffing

An IEP may also address:

  • Pastoral care
  • Medial support

An IEP should also record:

  • The plan’s review date and monitoring arrangements
  • Success and exit strategies
  • Outcomes when the IEP is reviewed

Suggestions

An IEP should contain:

  • Three or four short term targets that address specific areas of difficulty; for example, communication, behavior or social skills
  • The help the school or college will provide. This help will be extra to, and different from, the support received by the rest of the class
  • Details of any help to be provided by a Teaching Assistant, advice from a specialist teacher, therapist or health professional
  • Details about when, for how long and how this help will be provided; for example, inside or outside the classroom
  • How and when your child’s or young person’s progress will be measured and recorded; for example, success criteria

Therefore, specialist targets should not be based on learning for example, how to improve spelling or learning the 8x table. They should ideally concentrate on the specialist skills necessary to be developed by your child or young person. These targets might include mobility, Braille, touch typing, independent living skills, social skills or specialist ICT skills.

Non specialist targets can be included but the emphasis should be on setting targets which help develop specialist skills leading to independence.

You, your child and young person should be involved in setting targets and you should sign each IEP to say that you have seen it. Your child or young person must also be encouraged to keep in mind his or her responsibility for achieving the targets agreed. That is, own the target.

Target setting

The use of short term, attainable learning goals, with regular testing, frequent feedback and individual corrective help has been shown to help to improve low attainment standards in learners.

Why have targets?

Targets are necessary as they represent:

  • A level of achievement - did they succeed?
  • A method of monitoring - how the targets actually enhance a learner’s skills

Targets should be SMART

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Attainable

R = Relevant/Realisable

T = Time limited/Time specific

Things to look out for when targets have been set

  • Make sure they’re not too easy. Your child or young person will not be able to show his or her best and will feel less fulfilled by the achievement
  • Check that targets are not set just because they are easy to measure. Instead, check that the target is worth measuring, achievable but still challenging
  • Don’t make the monitoring and recording of targets too complex as the measuring can then become a substitute for learning itself

Suggestions

  • Ensure targets are achievable otherwise your child or young person may become demoralised and disengage from learning
  • Use previous achievement to help determine the overall target

Targets to maximise life

Targets may be unrelated to any specific lesson but are important in helping your child or young person make the most of life. This might involve addressing:

  • Confidence
  • Self-esteem
  • Attitude
  • Managing behaviour; for example, knowing about responsibilities to others and others’ responsibilities to your child or young person

Keeping a check

Having set a target record the point at which your child or young person started. It is of little use just saying s/he has developed self-esteem. What can s/he do now which couldn’t be done before? Where is the evidence? Was the development due to the target or did it just happen through life generally within the learning environment?

Your child or young person should also be congratulated when success has been achieved. Even if the target is not fully achieved, give positive feedback and highlight progress made towards achievement.

Considerations

  • Keep the emphasis on minimum targets that your child or young person should, if they work, achieve and even exceed. Keep them challenging but keep the experience positive
  • Make sure that you review the targets regularly as targets can help to identify your child’s or young person’s underperformance in specific areas
  • Make sure that you don’t compare your child or young person with peers
  • Although your child or young person may be interested in the target being discussed the setting and delivery of the target needs to be done sensitively
  • Targets and the progress made towards them are useful not only for your child or young person but also for teachers and you at home
  • Realistic targets are much more useful to your child or young person than ‘encouragement’ targets

When agreeing targets express them positively – something your child or young person should aim to do rather than not do.

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.

Placement options

In the UK today several options may be available to you regarding the choice of school or college. These including:

  • Mainstream or maintained school which is a school maintained by the local authority (LA)
  • Maintained or mainstream school with a resource base which is a maintained school with a base where your child or young person can be given specialist input, access specialist equipment and have resources specially prepared for him or her. It may be staffed by a specialist teacher and specialist learning support assistant(s)
  • Independent and independent residential schools are not maintained by the LA and charge fees. They may be approved by the Secretary of State as being suitable for children or young people with special educational needs. Independent schools are not covered by much of the law governing maintained schools but the Disability Discrimination Act does apply. There is no guarantee that the school has the time or resources to meet your child’s or young person’s needs which may also increase as the academic work load increases
  • Specialist independent and specialist independent residential schools which are fee paying schools too but are only for children or young people with specific special educational needs

The main advantage of a mainstream school or college stems from your child or young person often being at home and in the community. Whereas, the main advantage of a specialist independent or specialist independent residential education is the educational provision especially for those children or young people with a disability may be better.

For mainstream education to work there must be a sufficient number of specialist teachers and teaching support hours allocated along with adequate in-service training for generic (i.e. not a specialist in SEN) teachers and learning support assistants. There must also be adequate staff and time to adapt and modify resources.

What do you need to think about?

Following are a few questions you might like to ask when considering the suitability of a placement.

  • Will your child or young person have a suitable peer group?
  • Will the school or college provide quantifiable social and independent living skills programs?
  • Will your child or young person have the opportunity to engage fully in school or college life?
  • Will your child or young person have access to friends in and out of school or college?
  • Will your child or young person be able to participate in extra-curricular activities, and, if so, will s/he be supported by trained people to include learning support assistants and specialist teachers?
  • Have those delivering teaching been trained to meet your child’s or young person’s needs and what experience do they have?
  • What support is proposed for your child or young person in class? That is, the number of trained teaching assistant hours per day or week and the number of visits from specialist people?
  • Can the school or college ensure that your child or young person always receives accessible learning resources and information at the same time as peers? If so, how?
  • Will your child or young person have the opportunity to reach his or her potential as evidenced in general course work, SATs results and individual education plans when compared to other children or young people or more specifically those children or young people with special educational needs within the school or college?
  • How many children or young people attend the school or college?
  • How many children or young people with a visual impairment or other special educational needs attend the school or college?
  • How much time per week is allocated to the school’s or college’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator to address the needs of special educational needs children or young people?
  • Is the built environment suitable in order to meet the needs of your child or young person?
  • Will the whole learning environment be accessible and safe?
  • What are the special educational needs of others attending the school or college?
  • How big are classes and other teaching groups which your child or young person will join?
  • On average, how many children or young people in a class have special educational needs?
  • What specialist qualifications and experience do the people providing support have?
  • How much experience does the school or college have in meeting needs similar to your child’s or young person’s?
  • How well are all lessons and particularly lessons like Science, Geography and PE provided for regarding learning support assistant support, specialist equipment and learning materials?
  • What arrangements are in place for you, as parents, and the school or college to exchange information and co-operate?

You might also like to consider:

  • Why you think it would or would not be appropriate for your child or young person to attend a specific placement?
  • If you are thinking about a residential placement what are the educational reasons for attending?
  • Are your child’s or young person’s employment prospects likely to be better in mainstream, independent day or a residential school or college?

Always bear in mind that integration does not occur simply by attending a similar type of provision as non-disabled peers. When considering whether the school or college is suitable for your child or young person, gather evidence and get specialist independent advice.

Useful sources of information and advice may be:

  • Other parents with children or young people who have special educational needs at the school or college
  • Visiting the school or college during a working day
  • Professionals with first-hand knowledge of the school or college
  • Independent parent groups in the area
  • OFSTED reports: however, empirical evidence suggests a school or college may get a good report but may not be very effective when supporting children or young people with a visual impairment or disability in general
  • School or college prospectus

Residential special school or college

Following is a list of features often found in a residential specialist school or college during the delivery of a 24 hour curriculum.

  • Full-time academic education
  • Regular access to a mobility tutor which includes an assessment and individual program
  • Regular access to independent living skills tutors
  • Access to Health professionals often with experience in working with learners at the school or college
  • Access to regular Audiology, Orthoptic and Ophthalmology clinics and again, often staffed by people with experience in working with learners at the school or college
  • A wide range of adapted and modified in-house resources to include tactile and audio learning materials, often built up over years
  • Regular Braille or Moon teaching if required
  • Up to date ICT equipment available to each learner
  • In-house specialist access technology; for example, low vision aids, talking resources and equipment
  • Any special dietary requirements if required
  • A general assessment carried out by experienced qualified people
  • Individual programs in preparation for independent living and employment dependent on age
  • Allocation of a personal tutor and a key worker
  • 24 hour supervised care and board
  • Access to an extended curriculum informed by the interests of young people
  • Sleeping and waking night staff

Choosing a school or college is extremely important in order for your child or young person to reach his or her potential both at school, college and in the future. If you are unsure about a placement’s suitability you should seek independent advice.

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.

Planning

A well planned transition process is vital to ensure that your child or young person has a positive experience at each stage of transition. A plan will be necessary between:

  • Home and pre-school
  • Pre-school to school
  • Schools
  • A new class or key stage
  • School, further education or higher education
  • Education or training into employment

Individual needs

A transition plan should be tailored to meet individual need and enable your child or young person to become confident in the new environment as early as possible.

A transition plan should provide opportunities and enough time to:

  • Visit the new setting as soon as it is identified
  • Meet key staff
  • Develop age appropriate independence, orientation and mobility skills in the new environment
  • Become familiar with the learning environment; for example, school or college and classroom layout
  • Develop an understanding of the structure, routines and procedures; for example, during lunch times

Liaison

At times of transition it is essential that there is appropriate liaison between the feeder placement and the receiving placement. Specifically:

  • The receiving placement’s Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) or first class teacher should attend the support review or annual review prior to transfer
  • The receiving SENCO/class teacher should observe your child or young person in the learning environment
  • The views of the support staff who have worked with your child or young person should be shared
  • If your child or young person is particularly apprehensive s/he could,

    • Visit at a quiet times
    • Spend time in an appropriate lesson
    • Spend time, supported if necessary during informal contact times for example lunch time
    • Attend taster days in order to become familiar with school or college routines

New placement visits

During familiarisation visits forward planning is again essential. Taster days should enable your child or young person to take a full part in all activities planned and work as independently as possible. This requires:

  • Activities planned so that they are differentiated
  • Learning resources to be appropriately modified and adapted
  • Support arrangements need to be made for the visit to include any necessary support during unstructured times like breaks

Learning resources

Learners are often dependent on modified and adapted resources along with specialist equipment. Needs may change between different key stages, so any support requirements should be in place ready for when this occurs.

If a new piece of equipment or specialist resource in needed, both your child or young person and his or her teaching assistant may need training. Time therefore needs setting aside with everything in place before its use is necessary. This is particularly the case if, for example your child or young person is a Braillist and is supported by a teaching assistant who isn’t one.

Other considerations include:

  • A risk assessment: this should be carried out in relation to using, moving and handling specialist equipment
  • A convenient storage space allocated for equipment and learning resources
  • A person allocated with responsibility for each piece of equipment and its maintenance

Successful inclusion

Successful inclusion is dependent on all staff at the new school or college being aware of your child’s or young person’s particular needs. This requires:

  • Training and awareness raising for teaching and non-teaching staff before transfer
  • All records, including Individual Education Plans and Care Plans, should be passed on prior to transfer and read by appropriate staff in the receiving school or college
  • School or college must work closely with the specialist teacher to determine your child’s or young person’s needs and consider how these can be met
  • The needs of children or young people who do not have a statement or EHC plan should be addressed in a similar way to those who have a statement or EHC plan

Assessment of a new placement

An assessment of the receiving school or college, including a risk assessment should be carried out before transfer. The new environment must be safe and accessible to your child or young person. This requires an environmental audit covering any adaptations to buildings and outside spaces; for example, appropriate lighting, wheelchair access and the leading edge of steps highlighted.

An assessment should also be carried out to ensure procedures are in place for the administering of medication along with emergency procedures for fires.

Consultation

Parents, carers and each child or young person must feel that they have been fully consulted, involved and informed at all stages during the transition process. They should be:

  • Invited to meetings prior to transfer and encouraged to make a contribution
  • Provided with all written information in an appropriate format

Parents, children and young people should be given an explanation of all options in order to make an informed choice. If anything is unclear, seek advice.

During the process you should be:

  • Introduced to all key staff to include the SENCO, specialist teacher, key worker, specialist support assistant and staff such as the Mobility Officer; the head of year, form teacher and any other people supporting your child or young person
  • Provided with an opportunity to make accompanied visits to the new school or college
  • Encouraged to play an active role and made to feel that your input is valued
  • Consulted about how much information is to be shared with others, including peers, about your child’s or young person’s disability

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.

Attending meetings

Attending meetings is almost inevitable if you have a child or young person with a disability. You may be seated opposite someone with a great deal of experience and getting your point across can be difficult. Following, are a few pointers on how to manage.

Preparation is vital

  • Consider taking someone experienced and independent with you for support and to record what is said
  • Be clear about what the meeting is about
  • Be clear in your own mind about what you want from the meeting
  • At least two weeks before the meeting ask for an agenda or submit your own covering items you would like included
  • Similarly, ask for the names of those attending and their specialist area. You will need this information before arriving at the meeting
  • If reports are to be presented at the meeting request copies two weeks before in writing, and keep a copy for the meeting. You are trying to avoid turning up and being presented with an important report which you have not seen before
  • If necessary write your questions and points down. Consider what the response might be and think of a follow up point if necessary

Content of the meeting

  • If relevant, always try to speak with your child’s or young person’s teacher
  • The school or college should always be ‘open and responsive’ to parents’ or young peoples’ concerns
  • Avoid giving the impression that your concerns are based on bad teaching
  • Be clear and exact about difficulties your child or young person is experiencing
  • If necessary, research your child’s or young person’s disability(s) and seek advice about presenting information about the disability
  • Be clear about your child’s or young person’s needs
  • Be clear about what you want the school, local authority or college to do in order to meet your child’s or young person’s needs
  • Stick to the points you wish to raise and arrange another meeting to discuss other issues

Listening is crucial

  • At the beginning of the meeting everyone should introduce themselves. If this doesn’t happen ask them to do so. Ask also, their role if their title doesn’t explain things
  • If you do not understand a question or point say so. Ask the person to repeat, rephrase or clarify things if necessary
  • Try not to overreact when making a response

Making your point

  • Present information clearly
  • Say clearly why the school or college cannot or is not meeting your child’s or young person’s needs
  • Remember that you are describing a difficulty with learning or a disability that hinders your child or young person making progress

Afterwards

  • After the meeting go over points raised in your mind and write them down. If you attended with someone, discuss points raised and any outcomes agreed
  • If necessary, clarify points raised or issues not covered in the meeting later with the chairperson. Ensure that you do this in writing and keep a copy
  • Ask for a copy of minutes taken at the meeting
  • If you disagree with any points in the minutes, or believe points have been missed, comment in writing. Whilst you might not be able to change the minutes you can at least add your own points

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.

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