Blind school fights for more students

Alan Lachman is putting Insight''s plight in the spotlight. 177499_08 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

 The state’s only specialised school for blind children is fighting a campaign for survival, says its founder.
Insight Education Centre for the Blind and Vision Impaired lacks students and lacks funds, according to a state regulatory audit.
It has until 20 February to respond to education regulator the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority or risks being shut down.
Founder Alan Lachman called on Education Minister James Merlino to step in and secure the school’s continuing registration.
Mr Lachman says the school has suffered from an unsupportive Department of Education and Training that has not referred a single state school to Insight .
Instead it had allegedly blocked referrals and acted as a “competitor”, he said.
The department seemed to prefer blind students stayed in mainstream schools, despite the State Government pledging $2.4 million over three years to Insight.
“We don’t have the students because we can’t get the students.”

The purpose-built school has a capacity for 100 students. plus three mobile classrooms to visit other schools.
Specialist-trained staff and aides – with a team of transcribers – teach in braille and alternative print formats.
They also make use of assistive technologies, a sensory playground and customised desks and equipment.
Despite more than 500 registered blind and vision impaired students in Victoria, the school has an enrolment of just nine children.
“It is completely ludicrous, so I’ve orchestrated this campaign to put this in James Merlino and (Premier) Daniel Andrews’s faces,” Mr Lachman said.
“Unless they want to go to taxpayers to say we’ve invested $2.4 million into Insight and now they don’t care about their investment.”
Mr Lachman, a businessman who founded the Berwick-based school, said the school was equipped to give students life skills and a “better chance” than in the mainstream.
But it required “cultural change” within the Department.
“The education department is in a state of denial about the future employment prospects of these kids.
“If the prospects were good, we wouldn’t exist. I wouldn’t have done this.
“If nothing’s done, the great majority of these kids will not get work.”
Education Minister James Merlino said there was still funding currently available for the school.
“The independent VRQA regulator is currently reviewing the school.
“However, let me be clear, we will continue to support the operation of this school and its students.”
A Department spokeswoman said it was “inappropriate to make further comments at this time” while the VRQA awaited Insight’s response.

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