‘Access to learning’ and ‘learning to access’: Analysing the distinctive role of specialist teachers of children and young people with vision impairments in facilitating curriculum access through an ecological systems theory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

External organisations

  • University of Edinburgh


The move towards greater inclusive practice in recent years has resulted in significant changes in curriculum design, delivery and support for children and young people with vision impairments, including increasing placement in settings not designated for pupils with vision impairments. Within these settings, pupils will participate in most curriculum areas alongside their sighted peers with support provided by a range of practitioners including a specialist teacher of children and young people with vision impairments. This article is concerned with analysing the distinctive function and role of the specialist teacher across settings in helping to facilitate an appropriate balance of curriculum ‘access’. Drawing upon recent work in this area, a dual model of access is presented as a means of illustrating the specialist teacher’s role in (1) ensuring that the child’s environment is structured to promote learning throughout their education ‘access to learning’) and (2) supporting the child to learn distinctive skills in order to afford more independent learning (‘learning to access’). While it can be challenging for specialist teachers to find the balance between these two roles, its importance is highlighted in literature which associates independence skills with positive employment outcomes. An ecological systems theory is used as a lens through which to conceptualise and navigate the issues teachers negotiate in facilitating an appropriate curriculum balance. We illustrate the multi-faceted role of the specialist teacher in providing support ‘within’ and ‘between’ the different ‘systems’ within this theoretical framework with a particular focus on the professional ‘standards’ that are used in England and Scotland, respectively. The article is original in being the first to examine the role of the specialist teacher of children and young people with vision impairments through such an analysis. In providing a theoretical framework and related vocabulary illustrated with examples from practice, it therefore has significance for educators and researchers concerned with facilitating curriculum access across national contexts
and educational settings in order to reduce future barriers to learning and participation.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-195
JournalBritish Journal of Visual Impairment
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2016