Back to school after lockdown: A guide for parents of children with a vision impairment

In these times of uncertainty during Covid-19, most parents will have valid concerns regarding a return to school. However, this poses even more concerns and difficulties for those parents with children with a vision impairment.
This guide, written by our Children and Young People's Enablement Officer and qualified teacher Rachel, in collaboration with the Oldham Sensory and Physical Support Service, is designed to give peace of mind during uncertain times.
We are sharing government guidance and adding our own expertise with vision impairments to assist those who choose to go back to school at this time.

Introduction

The health and safety of all children is at the forefront of the concerns many parents have about their child going back to school after the lockdown.

Since all schools and authorities will have different approaches to children transitioning back into schools, it is impossible to set out the specifics of returning – however, the guidelines below will hopefully give some peace of mind about what to ask and some things to consider, alongside your child’s school.

1. Read the government guidance

Schools are being asked to transform the way that they work. The government has produced a document of guidance, stating what they would like schools to consider when welcoming children back. Specific guidance can be found here.

It is worth making yourself familiar with this guidance so that you can understand how school life might change and what impact this will have on your child and their individual needs.

2. Talk to your child

Ask your child about any concerns they may have about going back to school – their concerns may or may not be related to their vision impairment. They may have more general concerns about being with friends, school work, etc. Addressing those concerns is just as important as addressing their practical needs.

We’ve produced some handy worksheets that may help you have these discussions with your child.  You can download it here.

3. Talk to your child’s QTVI

Communication with your child’s QTVI (Qualified Teacher of the Visually Impaired), if they have one, will help with understanding what is happening at your child’s school. They are in regular contact with schools and can provide practical advice and support. Raising any concerns with QTVIs means it can be communicated to schools and issues can be resolved.

4. Be aware of any changes to the school layout

Many changes are being planned for moving around school, entering and exiting, and how the building and classrooms are set out. It is important that schools communicate these changes regularly to children with a vision impairment.

One-way systems

One change that the government is suggesting is operating ‘one way’ systems within the school environment. If your child has learned a way of moving around school, they may need more time to practise moving around school using the new ‘one way’ system. Communicate with your school regarding their plans, and stress the importance of ensuring that your child is adequately prepared for this change upon going back to school.

Changed layouts

It has also been suggested that the way schools set out classrooms and furniture should be altered, with tables and furniture spaced at least 2 metres apart. They also advise that non-essential equipment should be stored in cupboards, and classrooms should be decluttered for more space. This is great news for those with additional needs, but children will need to learn and be taught what that new layout is like and be given the opportunity to navigate through the classroom.

Different classrooms

Proposals suggest that classes should be split and there should be a maximum of 15 children in each classroom. As your child is already more familiar with their own classroom, when it comes to deciding which children would stay in their own classroom and which children would be sent to others, it would make sense to request your child stays in that classroom to avoid having to learn their way around, and to a completely new room.

Doors staying open

Government advice suggests that classrooms should be adequately ventilated and that they could “prop doors open, where safe to do so (bearing in mind fire safety and safeguarding), to limit use of door handles and aid ventilation.” If this could potentially cause an issue for your child, make sure this is communicated to the school.

Entrances and exits

On return, children may be required to use different entry and exit points than they were before.  Schools will communicate with parents before the return to school, regarding which doors should be used to enter and exit buildings.  If this will cause issues for your child, make sure school are aware of this so that they can assess the risk and put measures in place.

Additional support

In the published document, the government point out that “some children and young people will need additional support to follow these measures (for example, routes around school marked in braille).” It is worth discussing with your child’s school what plans they have in place to support your child’s needs when moving around school. Large print signs will also be useful for those who are not braille users.

5. Think about hand-washing arrangements

There is an increased need to maintain good standards of personal hygiene, including frequent handwashing. It is assumed that there will be rules regarding how many children are to go and wash hands at the same time, which again could pose a problem for children with a vision impairment. Asking if your child could go first, or last would help to avoid difficulties with social distancing.

If your child requires support with maintaining personal hygiene, it is recommended that settings “ensure that help is available for children and young people who have trouble cleaning their hands independently.” Now might be a good time to practise handwashing at home (you probably already have done!)

6. Discuss arrangements for lunchtimes and playtimes

Lunchtime arrangements

The way that playtimes and lunchtimes operate will change significantly. Packed lunches will be a good way of limiting the movement at lunchtime, so it is worth considering what type of food you pack in there. Choose drinks without straws that are difficult to put in, practise opening packets of crisps and make all items manageable and mess free. If your child requires assistance to open some packets, either practise at home or pack things which your child can open independently.

Schools will be required to reopen kitchens again and provide meals for children who are entitled to free school meals. It would be worth having a discussion with your child’s school if your child requires assistance with eating. There may be certain foods that would be easier for your child to eat independently.

Playtime arrangements

The way that children play will be dramatically altered. Each school is devising new ways for children to remain socially distanced at break and lunchtimes. All children will find this a real challenge, but for children with a vision impairment, this will pose even more difficulties.

Your child’s school will be aware of their additional needs and will have a risk assessment in place surrounding these unstructured times. It is also a good idea to discuss this with your child and ask them about their concerns regarding break and lunchtimes.

Take a look at our top tips for social distancing blog for some useful tips and tricks your child may be able to implement.

7. Raise awareness

In primary schools, most children will already be aware if there is someone with a vision impairment, but, with your consent, it might be worth a reminder to other children of the difficulties and challenges that may be faced by your child when social distancing. It may be a good opportunity for more education surrounding sight loss, if you and your child feel comfortable discussing it.

In secondary schools, this could pose a greater challenge with larger numbers of children. A potential change to timetables will hopefully mean that there is less opportunity for mixing on corridors, etc. therefore reducing the difficulties. Children could potentially be allowed to finish lessons earlier than classmates to safely move to the next lesson. For children who would find this too difficult, children would need to be safely accompanied around school but again, it is always worth discussing these concerns with the school or QTVI.

8. The issue of sharing resources

Once in the classroom, the sharing of resources and equipment will not be allowed. All children will be provided with their own equipment. For a child with a vision impairment, this may be difficult if they cannot see which equipment another child has used, and which equipment belongs to them. As stated in point 7, this may be a good opportunity for vision impairment to be discussed openly in the classroom and highlight the difficulties faced by your child. Children tend to be really helpful and supportive when they know the reasons for doing something. It may not have occurred to other children that your child may have additional difficulties with things that they take for granted.

9. Think about the logistics of outdoor learning

Outdoor learning will be high on the agenda, where possible, for many schools. Like lunch and break times, this will be fully risk-assessed by your child’s school but if you have any specific concerns, speak to your child’s school prior to returning.

If your child has a learning aid in the classroom, such as screen share, teachers will need to adapt lessons to ensure that your child has the same access to learning and resources in the outside learning space as they would within the classroom.

10. Practice independence skills

More than ever, children will be required to have increased independence within school. Now is a great time to practise some of those skills that will be more important than ever when back in school. Can they fasten their own coat, wash their hands independently, go to the toilet by themselves? For some children, this would not be appropriate, but, for many, it would be a great time to try! Offer rewards and praise for any attempts at learning new skills for independence.

11. Keep up to date with changes

It is important to remember that government advice regarding a return to school is changing daily, and that each individual school will have different approaches to how they adapt to the new normal. All school buildings are different, there are differing levels of need within each school, and schools will be different to how we have ever known them before.

Always discuss concerns with your child’s school and anyone else involved in their education. Everyone’s primary concern is your child’s safety! Check your child’s school website and Local Authority website to look for more specific guidance in your area.

12. Further reading

We’ve produced a useful summary document on how to prepare your child for a return to school – download it here.

The following links to other guidance may be of help to parents who have concerns about their child with a vision impairment going back to school:

https://www.ipsea.org.uk/news/ipsea-update-on-covid-19-school-closures-and-sen-provision

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/help-children-with-send-continue-their-education-during-coronavirus-covid-19

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-send-risk-assessment-guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-send-risk-assessment-guidance

We're still here to help!

We hope this guidance has gone some way to easing your concerns about the return to school.  Many thanks to the Oldham Sensory and Physical Support Service for their valuable input.

Our staff are still available to talk to over the telephone, and even by video call in some cases, if you need to talk to a member of our Children and Young People’s team. Please give us a ring on 0300 222 5555 or drop us an email to info@henshaws.org.uk to find out more.

If you found this blog interesting, why not check these blogs out too:

Help your visually impaired child learn at home

Mindfulness for children with a visual impairment or additional support needs

Keeping children with sight loss active at home

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Sarah
Sarah
Sarah is the Marketing Manager with responsibility for Community Services across Greater Manchester, and the Knowledge Village.