The Hon Natalie Hutchins MP
Minister for Education and Minister for Women
MELBOURNE VIC 3000
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We write to you to express concern about the proposal to reduce the Visiting Teachers workforce, as it will significantly cut back the services required to assist children who are blind or vision impaired in the classroom.
It is our understanding that the number of Visiting Teachers will be cut from 117 to just 32 roles, significantly reducing access to specialised care for some of the most vulnerable children in the Victorian school system.
There are approximately 500 students who are blind or vision impaired that will be impacted by the proposal, and Blind Citizens Australia is concerned about how these children will acquire the necessary skills to be fully engaged in their education and the wider community.
Trained specialists are required to ensure that children are fully included in teaching learning activities, as well as learn compensatory skills such as Braille, orientation and mobility skills, using screen reading software, and more. For students to learn these skills, they must practise on a regular basis with specialised support.
Access to education is a fundamental human right and students who are blind or vision impaired, d/Deaf, hard of hearing, or live with a physical disability or health impairment need to be taught the necessary skills to thrive in the community.
While the proposal does include the introduction of ‘Inclusion Outreach Coaches’ to provide expertise and advice to non-specialist schools, we hold the view that such a service will not adequately meet the unique needs of blind or vision impaired students, or those in their education and development. Without the ability to interact with students in person and provide one-on-one guidance to ensure students can successfully engage with, learn from, and complete classroom activities, this proposal will guarantee that the educational outcomes will further decline for all students with disability, including those who are blind or vision impaired.
We note also that this proposal appears to be at odds with the Inclusive Victoria: State Disability Plan (2022-2026), which states the Government will work with the sector to better understand the needs of children with disability or developmental delay in accessing and engaging in high-quality learning and to ensure support provided is as effective as possible. Under the State Disability Plan, the Government committed it will “make inclusive education part of everyday practice in all schools and classrooms” and ensure learners with disability have access to training and job-based education by “improving disability inclusion and access to support.” However, the proposal to reduce the Visiting Teachers workforce will only hinder these goals.
Students who are blind or vision impaired face unique challenges to inclusion and require a high level of support and expertise to ensure they can access their rights to education and participation on an equitable basis.
We urge the Victorian Education Department to reconsider the proposal, as it has the potential to stop students from receiving a fair education. These students require consistent access to trained teachers to gain the necessary skills that will foster their independence in the classroom and in the future workforce.
Blind Citizens Australia.