Exploring the role and experience of classroom assistants supporting pupils with visual impairment

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The role of the classroom assistant (CA) is considered pivotal in inclusive provision for pupils with additional needs. CAs’ support of pupils who have a visual impairment (VI) is greatly underreported in the literature. Scaffolding theory was applied to investigate the role of CAs in supporting pupils who have a VI in mainstream schools in Northern Ireland, UK. Focus groups were conducted with 18 CAs who were embarking on an accredited VI-focused professional development programme. Findings revealed the majority of assistants had received no formal training to work with these pupils although they provided support in a wide range of ways to ensure their educational, social and physical inclusion in school. Although positive aspects of their contribution were described in inclusive terms, challenges were identified that mainly impacted on the participatory options of pupils with VI. Most prominently, minimal access to professional development engendered uncertainty that pupils were being appropriately and effectively supported. Viewed through the lens of scaffolding theory, CAs occupy a predominantly supporting role, with paucity in upskilling opportunities and hierarchical structures limiting further professional progression. More strategic consideration of the CA role could contribute to greater equity of access to education for children with VI.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Inclusive Education
Early online date26 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 26 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding information:
The Classroom Assistants undertaking the training programme were funded by Ulster University’s Centre for Flexible Education. Further support for delivery of the programme was available from the Garfield Weston Trust. Invest NI innovation voucher funding was secured by Angel Eyes NI to support this research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Classroom assistant
  • visual impairment
  • professional development
  • Scaffolding


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