She is 20 months old but my wife and I are already thinking about the quality of education she is likely to receive. We happen to be in a position where we need to move house. But where should we go to find the best primary and secondary schools for our daughter?
I started with the Royal National Institute of the Blind which sent me a short list of the special schools it funds. It turns out that lists of special schools are relatively easy to get hold of. But I'm interested in a mainstream education.
Next, I tried the Department for Education and Skills which initially refused to give me any information. It said the responsibility for educating visually impaired children lay with my local education authority. Later, the DfES admitted that it does not collate information on schools with facilities for visually impaired children.
One government organisation does keep such records--Ofsted, the body responsible for inspecting schools in England. But Ofsted declined to search its files, even when requested to do so using the Freedom of Information Act. Ofsted's response to my request and its reason for refusing to fulfil it is here.
So in August and September 2005, I used the Freedom of Information Act to request from each local education authority in England a list of mainstream schools in their area with special facilities for the visually impaired. My plan is to do the same for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the future.
This website collates the responses I have had. Where an LEA has sent me a list, the schools are included on this site. The responses from LEAs which didn't provide a list are also given.
The exercise shows clearly how education for visually impaired children is a postcode lottery in England. Some areas appear well equipped and well organised to meet the needs of visually impaired children, others are poorly prepared. Some actively send visually impaired children to be educated elsewhere. Out of sight is out of mind. And if you live in the South West of England, I wish you luck. You'll need it.
Of course, this survey shows only part of the picture. The schools listed here have dedicated units for teaching visually impaired children. That makes them unusual. Most local education authorities do not have a single school in this category but instead claim to be able to educate visually impaired children successfully at any school. It's an ambitious claim that ought to be backed up by strong evidence. The evidence for whether or not this policy is successful is sadly lacking.
Perhaps the biggest issue raised by this survey is how education standards for visually impaired children are monitored. I have provided links to the Ofsted reports for all the schools on this site. Read through a few of them and you'll get a sense of their huge variation in quality. Ofsted doesn't appear to have a standard for monitoring the quality of education the visually impaired children receive. If that is the case, how can parents be sure the schools meet any objective standard at all?
I hope making this information public will in some small way help to improve the quality of education for visually impaired children.
I have made every attempt to make this website as accurate
and up-to-date as possible. But inevitably, errors must creep in. Please let me
know of any you find. And if you know of any schools that should be included on
this site but aren't, drop me an email.