To my mind, on hearing you read out those points, it sounds as if all the organisations are more or less saying the same thing.
The curriculum for excellence has wonderful aspirations. It sets the standard for the four capacities that we expect Scottish children to have by the time that they enter adult life. The curriculum’s problem is that it is extremely busy—it is jam-packed. Indeed, it is busy for a child with full vision or no disability. It is extremely challenging for teaching professionals to ensure that blind or partially sighted children or, as Tracy Christie mentioned, children with significant other needs, are prepared, fully engaged in school life and have the skills necessary to be successful in life while also learning maths, foreign languages, history and so on.
There is a huge debate in the world of visual impairment about whether there should be so much focus on the academic or whether children should perhaps look at the academic side of things slightly later in life. To return to the early years, Sally Paterson talked about picking up health issues in babies. If you lost your sight, you would have an understanding of the world around you. A blind child or a child with severe visual impairment must learn about the world around them. They must be taught to understand their own self in space, such as how they can engage with their living room and their house, and that then goes out into the community and around the school or nursery when they attend. All that must be taught; it does not come automatically. They cannot learn through the medium of sight. Therefore, time must be dedicated to ensure that parents can support and help their child. More important, time must be dedicated so that nursery, primary and secondary school staff know how they can support a child, too.
Personally, I think that there is an overemphasis on the academic side. Time has to be taken from the curriculum. Instead of young people leaving school with six or seven highers, we need to start shifting our focus and ensuring that those young people can touch type by the time they leave primary school and that they know how to use appropriate assistive technology—whether that be iPads or Braille technology devices—so that they can be independent learners.
Time has to be set aside in the curriculum to ensure that orientation and mobility lessons are delivered as part of an appropriate habilitation service, which should be delivered not by teachers but by habilitation specialists who know and understand the developmental needs of children.
Similarly, employability skills, social skills and communication all have to be delivered and taught to young people. Social inclusion is a major problem for blind and partially sighted kids. Sometimes, they are very welcome in the primary setting but when they go up to high school the friends that they had in primary school disappear like snow off a dyke. Many of those children become very socially isolated, perhaps because it is not seen as cool for teenagers to be hanging about with the blind child in a mainstream setting.
I have to engage with and support those young people through the hugely emotional situation that they then have to endure. That can affect their behaviour in class and so on. In a sense, we are just scratching at the surface in the meeting today. There are major problems in what we are delivering to children across Scotland. We have to think about what is in the curriculum and we have to ensure that the professionals who work with those children and young people are geared up so that they can support them more effectively. As I have said many times, that is not happening just now. Teachers are not qualified.
Local authorities are trying to do things on the cheap and are not putting people through the appropriate qualifications—the postgraduate diploma. We have teachers retiring and being replaced by inexperienced staff or perhaps not being replaced at all. Up in Orkney, there were months—in fact, years—when there was no teacher of the visually impaired. One woman works two days a week trying to cover the whole geographical area of Argyll and Bute. Such things are happening right across Scotland. At a time of austerity, local authorities do not have the money and therefore are not meeting the needs of blind and partially sighted children.