Blind schoolgirl from Bristol fights to save the support that keeps her in mainstream education

11-year-old Lily-Grace is blind but goes to a mainstream primary school near Bristol thanks to specialist support. But for how long?

Research by the Royal National Institute of Blind People, RNIB, has found that hundreds of children and young people with sight loss are being failed by underfunded local authorities across the South West.

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Lily-Grace from Winterbourne Down near Bristol has a condition called nystagmus - involuntary eye movement - and is registered severely sight impaired.

The 11-year-old has specialist support from a Qualified Teacher of Vision Impairment who taught her braille and how to use a cane. Lily-Grace's teacher also helps her with her ongoing studies. This support is now under threat as her local authority is reviewing the service as it struggles to cope with cuts in funding.

The RNIB has found that half of local authorities in the South West have cut or frozen their funding for specialist education services supporting at least 1,042 children with vision impairment since 2017.

Since 2017, more than a third of councils in the region have made a reduction in Qualified Teachers of Vision Impairment (QTVI), who are central to making mainstream education accessible for visually impaired children and young people.

Lily-Grace (far left) took part in a protest against cuts at Emersons Green Primary School. Credit: ITV West Country

Last summer - August 2019 - Lily-Grace joined others in protesting against proposed cuts to her primary school at Emersons Green, which can cater for up to 18 children with specialist needs.

The RNIB is calling on the Government to increase funding for children like Lily Grace with vision impairment. Stephen Weymouth, the network manager for the RNIB in the South West, says withholding help now could have a long term impact.

Any decision about funding from central Government may come too late for Lily Grace, who leaves primary school in summer 2020.

Her mother Kristy Hooper says, taking away her support would be devastating. "It would mean taking her out of the area. Putting her in a school that she doesn't necessarily have any friends or isn't familiar to her. It would then mean extra bus time to her day - add another two and a half hours to her day for an 11-year-old which again is unfair".

The local authority, South Gloucestershire Council, has promised to hold a public consultation before implementing any plans.