Written by Rachel Hewett
For the past seven years I have been working as the primary researcher on the ‘Longitudinal Transitions Study’: a longitudinal qualitative investigation into the post-16 transition experiences of young people with visual impairment. This project, which is based at Visual Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research in School of Education, has been following the experiences of over 80 young people as they have left compulsory education and followed various pathways, such as further education, higher education, apprenticeships and employment.
Young people with visual impairment are supported as children and young people by specialist services linked to local authorities. A significant finding of the research has been the identification of a ‘postcode lottery’ of service provision, and evidence that some young people with visual impairment are leaving compulsory education without all the skills that they need to live and work independently in adulthood. Such skills include tools to access information, get around independently, and self-advocate.
A particular challenge to specialist services and voluntary sector groups has been a lack of research evidence to understand the experiences of these young people. An objective of the longitudinal study therefore is to identify enablers and barriers which can impact upon a young person’s experience. This comes at a time of significant changes to policy in which the Children and Families Act of 2014, through the new Code of Practice, calls for services to support young people with special educational needs and disabilities until the age of 25.
Part of our dissemination activity for this project is being supported through an ESRC-IAA grant. ‘Successful Transitions: Young people with visual impairment moving from school to independence and employment’ is a joint project between VICTAR and UK charity Royal National Institute of Blind People. The grant is paying for me to undertake a secondment at RNIB with the objective of developing evidence-based resources to improve the post-16 transition outcomes of young people with visual impairment.
A first outcome of this project will be an updated resource called ‘Bridging the Gap’. This resource will be published on the RNIB website and will be promoted to young people, families and professionals as a key source of information to help prepare young people with visual impairment for various post-16 transitions. A draft of the resource is currently being reviewed by various stakeholders, and will be published in the autumn.
A second outcome of the project will be a package of resource material to help professionals arranging workshops for the young people they support. Again, drawing upon our research evidence, these resources will focus on some of the key issues faced by young people with visual impairment when leaving compulsory education. The resources will be supplemented by online videos in which some young people interview an older person with a visual impairment, asking for their reflections on what they wish they had known when they were still in school, what went well, and what they would have done differently.
More information on the Longitudinal Transitions Study can be found on the project website: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/education/research/victar/research/longitudinal-transitions-study/index.aspx