Engaging with the sector – ESRC Festival of Social Science

On 10th November VICTAR and VIEW collaborated to host a workshop entitled ‘Supporting young people with vision impairment through post-16 transition’. This event was arranged as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science.

Various professionals who have contributed to the Longitudinal Transitions Study and provided teaching support for the MQ programme were invited to attend the event, which was held at Impact Hub Birmingham. The purpose of the event was to present our findings from the ongoing longitudinal study and to discuss the appropriate response of the sector to these findings.

The event was chaired by VICTAR co-director, Mike McLinden.

The afternoon commenced with a presentation from Graeme Douglas and Rachel Hewett (VICTAR) and Sue Keil (VIEW) who discussed some of the key findings from both the Longitudinal Transition Study and a RNIB Freedom of Information Request of Local Authority specialist services. The presentation focused on the role of specialist services in preparing young people with vision impairment for adulthood, whilst acknowledging the conflicting pressures which local authorities face due to a narrowing of the curriculum and budget constraints.

Sue Keil presenting findings from the RNIB Freedom of Information request

The second presentation came from Kay Wrench who reflected back on her thirty years’ experience working as a qualified teacher of children and young people with vision impairment (QTVI). She emphasised the importance of QTVIs using their time resource wisely, such as equipping schools to produce materials in alternative formats to allow the QTVI to focus on working with children and young people with vision impairment to develop important skills such as self-advocacy, mobility and assistive technology skills.

Kay Wrench

Lucy Dixon from RNIB followed by sharing information about a sector wide campaign which is set to highlight dwindling specialist support services for children and young people with vision impairment, and to expose the negative impact that this has on young people with vision impairment being able to fulfill their potential and to live and work independently when adults. Further information about this campaign can be found on the RNIB website.

Lucy Dixon

The second half of the afternoon allowed opportunity for discussion in small groups and for delegates to provide their thoughts and reflections on the issues raised. Those who attended contributed enthusiastically, drawing upon their wealth of experience working in both educational and voluntary sectors.

The afternoon was concluded by Rory Cobb from VIEW who drew together the main points of these discussions. The outcomes of these will be summarised and shared on the VIEW website for consideration by other QTVIs, and will also guide important discussions between VICTAR, VIEW and members of the steering group for the longitudinal transitions study over the coming months and years.


We would like to thank ESRC for providing funding to support this event, Impact Hub Birmingham for hosting the event and the delegates who engaged with the workshop with such enthusiasm.

Rachel Hewett


Thank you to Rory Cobb and Sue Keil

On Friday the 20th October 2017 Rory and Sue both retired from RNIB – combined, they had contributed over 50 years of work to RNIB and the field of vison impairment education.  They have done this with great skill, openness, friendliness, good humour and passion. Thank you both, and very best wishes for a happy and healthy retirement!

Sue and Rory
Sue and Rory at their retirement celebration

I met Rory in 1994 when I first started working in the field – he advised us on a technology development project and was typically thoughtful and helpful. In the 2000s we worked more closely together on his MPhil – in which he researched assessment access. This was part of his sustained and successful efforts to gain fair access to public examinations for students with vision impairment.  We struck up a friendship and through those discussions lay some of the seeds of our theoretical thinking about vision impairment education: balancing social adjustments (inclusive practice) on one hand and developing children’s agency and independence on the other. As a programme and regional tutor, Rory has offered wonderful support to the Mandatory Qualification for Teachers of Children and Young People with Vision Impairments. In fact Rory’s development work on the programme has helped align it to new and changing government policies while maintaining a theoretical integrity with young people’s interests at its core.

I met Sue in the late 1990s, initially as a researcher and author on the influential RNIB Shaping the Future survey work which gathered the views of a large cohort of young people across the UK. At the same time Sue was a key RNIB contact for much of VICTARs research work, initially the ‘Steps to Independence‘ project (which has links to the emergence of the habitation specialist as a key professional in our field). Sue is a brilliant advocate for research as a vehicle to bring about positive change and to challenge inequality – this is both as a ‘user of research’ through exemplary briefing documents, and also as a ‘producer of research’. For example, Sue’s ‘state of the nation’ reports based on survey work with local authorities continue to be hugely important. More recently she has worked on significant research projects at both ends of the educational age range – the Great Ormond Street Hospital/UCL OPTIMUM project concerned with early development in blind or partially sighted infants, and the VICTAR Longitudinal Transitions Project concerned with Post-16 transition experiences.

We all work in a relatively small field, and as such we rely on collaboration and friendships. VICTAR and field generally have benefited greatly from Rory and Sue as individuals, but in recent years we have gained even more from them as a brilliant team.  Their complementary areas of expertise are amazing and have helped us glue together important strands of research and teacher training in the field of vision impairment education. This is also enhanced by a quality they share – both are superb spoken and written communicators. This has been clearly illustrated through their contributions to writing in our field.

steering group
Sue and Rory and other members of the Longitudinal Transition Study steering group

Good luck next stage of your lives – I’m sure that will involve some continued working together here at the University and through your planned work with VIEW. I hope it will also involve some well-earned time to relax!

With very best wishes and thanks from all at the University of Birmingham.

Graeme Douglas

VIEW Conference: 16th & 17th March 2017

The annual VIEW Conference was held in Birmingham with a great line up of presenters. VIEW is a professional membership association for Qualified Teachers of children and young people with vision impairment. Teachers from all around the UK were in attendance for the two day event, which included presentations from VICTAR’s Graeme Douglas and Mike McLinden.

This artwork was created by students at RNIB College Loughborough. The picture is of an eye against a background made up of old Braille pages. The outline of the eye is made up of black and white photos of staff and students’ eyes.  The pupil is made up of different coloured tactile collage segments. The iris is a concave mirror. It is going to be displayed at RNIB’s centre in Judd Street, London.

Reza Kiani presented on the topic ‘Association of autism with sensory impairments in young people and adults with autism’. In his presentation Reza highlighted that sensory issues are common in adults with intellectual disabilities. He also noted that there is a high chance of missing a sensory impairment and ASD in young people and adults with an intellectual disability if no objective tools are used. His take home message was to “always raise the concerns early on”.

Peter White BBC journalist gave a most interesting and thought provoking presentation of his lived experience of being blind, attending a specialist residential school for the blind and working in a predominantly sighted work place. Peter shared clips from a recent BBC radio broadcast, ‘Too Many Helping Hands’ (which also featured Graeme Douglas), including a clip from one young blind student who gave examples of ways in which the “inclusive” activities of the school she attended were not true of the “real world”.

Rachel Pilling and Yvonne Smith spoke about their study ‘Now they See it Now they Don’t’. This project has considered the benefits of traditional vision assessments in special schools, through consultation with teachers, parents and other stakeholders.

Naomi Dale provided an update on the Optimum VI project. This is a research study which aims to learn more about the early development of babies and young children with visual impairment, and also how different methods of early intervention and care might influence this early development. Much of the data was still under wraps, however what Naomi did share was the positive input from parents who have young children with congenital vision impairments involved in the research. The outcomes will be available in the public arena shortly.

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Mike McLinden presents on: “‘Access to Learning-Learning to Access’ – Analysing the distinctive role of specialist teachers of children and young people with vision impairments”

Mike McLinden addressed the topic of what is the role of the QTVI. This included consideration of the new training standards, new policy context and our historical understanding of what specialist teachers should do. As a vehicle for this discussion he drew upon a model developed by VICTAR: the ‘Access to learning and learning to access’ model.

Graeme Douglas presented with Nikki Chowdry from the Department for Education on the topic “Preparing for Adulthood”. Their presentation addressed the role of the QTVIs in the context of the new Code of Practice, and drew upon various research activities within VICTAR, including the Longitudinal Transitions Study. The audience gave interesting thoughts and reflections on the opportunities and challenges offered by the new SEND legislation.

Threaded through the conference along with the main presentations above, were a series of workshops that delegates could select from. The two day professional conference was facilitated well by Rory Cobb and Suzy McDonald. It was Suzy’s final conference, after many years of true commitment to the field of vision impairment. Rory and the delegates thanked Suzy for all her work for the sector over the years.

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VIEW Chair – Rory Cobb

Jane Thistlethwaite