VIEW Conference 2023 – Speaker Biographies

Learn more about our conference speakers below.

Keynote speakers

Christopher Robertson is is an independent academic and author, policy analyst and adviser to educational organisations with a particular interest in SEND policy and implementation. His previous roles include lecturing in SEND at the University of Birmingham (with lead responsibility for developing and introducing the National Award for SEN Co-ordination) Canterbury Christ Church University, and the University of London’s Institute of Education. Christopher is a member of the Special Educational Needs Policy Forum’s lead group. He also chair’s the SENCO Forum national e-community and engages in lobbying government to define and regulate the role of SENCOs more carefully, and to ensure that SENCOs are appropriately trained and deployed in schools, early years settings and post -16 provision. Christopher is a long-standing parent and family advocate, supporter of Special Educational Needs Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS) independent management board and collaborates closely with parent and young people’s groups affiliated to the Service.

Samantha Gordon is a consultant in paediatric ophthalmology and neuro-ophthalmology. Samantha was a chemist and journalist before entering medicine as a mature student. A surprise special study as a medical student piqued her interest in ophthalmology and, two decades later, she is a consultant in paediatric ophthalmology and neuro-ophthalmology with Barts Health in London. She leads Barts Ophthalmology Research Group and is involved in projects with children and ophthalmology.

Elena Sakkalou is a developmental psychologist and senior lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University. Her research focuses on typical development and neurodevelopmental disorders, and the effect that neurodisability has on cognitive, socio-communicative and brain development. She has expertise in severe and profound visual impairment (VI) and autism in the realm of VI. She has been conducting studies with children with visual impairment for the last 12 years and has previously worked at the UCL GOS Institute of Child Heath and as honorary researcher at Great Ormond Street Hospital. In her free time she organises workshops for the Mary Kitzinger Trust, a small charity that brings together professionals and researchers working in the area of childhood VI.

Fiona Broadley has taught Habilitation Skills to children and young people with vision impairments for over 30 years. She heads a team of Habilitation Specialists (RQHS) and lectures at Birmingham City University, on the top up degree- Habilitation Work – Working with Children and Young People – BSc (Hons). The team also deliver the Habilitation elements on the courses for Specialist Teachers of Vision Impaired children( QTVIs ) and for Teachers of Multi Sensory Impaired Children (MSI) at the University of Birmingham. She is currently Chair of Habilitation VIUK, the professional body for Habilitation Specialists. Fiona has published two books on Habilitation, Supporting Life Skills for Young Children with Vision Impairment and Other Disabilities: An Early Years Habilitation Handbook and Supporting Life Skills for Children and Young People with Vision Impairment and Other Disabilities: A Middle Childhood Habilitation Handbook. Written in an accessible style, these resources are suitable for parents, carers and professionals alike.

Hannah Butler is a palliative care nurse, specialising in working with children and young people with long term, life-limiting, and life-threatening conditions. Qualified to Postgraduate level in Paediatric & Adolescent Nursing and with a Masters in Medical Ethics, she is currently working jointly between Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice in North London and the Louis Dundas Centre, at Great Ormond Street Hospital.  Since 2007, Hannah has worked with children and young people with complex needs, including sensory, physical and cognitive impairments, autism and related communication difficulties. Hannah has significant Voluntary Sector experience in leadership roles and previously worked for Sense, where she was responsible for delivery of high quality holidays and short breaks for children, young people and adults with multisensory impairments. Hannah is passionate about ensuring joined up working between health, education and social care, ensuring children and young people who are seriously unwell can make the most of every day.

Matt Leverington lost his central vision suddenly and unexpectedly due to LHON (Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy) at the age of 22. LHON is a very rare condition (there are around 2,500 people with the condition in the UK). It mainly affects young men aged between 18-25 but children as young as 6 are occasionally affected. There is some crossover between LHON and Stargadt’s. After Matt developed LHON his father Mark co-founded the LHON Society, one of the reasons for doing so was to put people affected by it in touch with each other. At the time that Matt lost his sight he was working in the finance sector. In his talk, he will tell us about the impact that sudden loss of sight had on him and the psychological and practical support that he received to enable him to adjust to this new reality, and to enable him to continue working and living independently. Delegates will gain valuable insights into the impact of late onset vision impairment and its implications for young adulthood and employment.

Workshop speakers

Gwyneth McCormack is Director at Positive Eye Ltd. Gwyn McCormack founded Positive Eye in 2008 to provide practical courses and a product range of resources for practitioners working with children with VI. Positive Eye has developed to work nationally and internationally. Gwyn uses her years of experience as a Qualified Teacher of VI (QTVI) and Head of Service to deliver creative approaches, within practical frameworks, equipping educators with practical skills to support children. She has taken the lead role on the QTVI course – University of South Wales, contributed to the University of Birmingham QTVI course and participated in European projects. Most recently Gwyn completed a 7-week training tour of 7 States in America during the summer of 2022. She is currently collaborating with 27 States (USA) to bring a successful model of literacy to life: ‘The Story Time Show’ strengthening the literacy outcomes for 100’s of children with complex learning needs – the impact is immeasurable.

Will Stark is Head of Science at New College Worcester, and I am a QTVI along with all staff at New College. We are a school for children with a visual impairment as their primary disability. We have students with varying amounts of sight and causes of sight loss, and we ensure our lessons meet the needs of all students. We teach science through to A Level and we ensure all of our students pass the Practical Endorsement at KS5. I have been at New College since 2014. As well as teach science, I write the school timetable, and deliver outreach training to teachers, support staff and local authorities across the country. I am committed to ensuring all students with a visual impairment can access science at all levels. I have been an examiner for OCR and CIE for over 20 years so I bring that experience to my teaching.

Karen Hirst is Early Support, Education and Training Manager at RNIB. After 15 years in a large comprehensive school in Wakefield, working as teacher of English with responsibility for KS4 and Literacy, I moved to RNIB in 2014. In my current role within the CYPF and Education team, my duties include overseeing the development of new and existing resources for parents, managing the content and delivery of our Parent Pathways course and supporting the Education team in their offer of professional development opportunities to VI Education practitioners.

Simon Kerrigan is an Education Specialist at RNIB. He is a QTVI, with experience working in secondary and upper primary school and has previously worked as the Lead QTVI in a large Integrated Resource for children and young people with visual impairment in a mainstream secondary school. Simon’s main areas of interest include supporting students with preparation for exams, assistive technology in the classroom and making sport accessible.

Tara Chattaway, is Head of Education, Thomas Pocklington Trust. Tara Heads up TPTs Education team, which focuses on blind and partially students in secondary, further and higher education. The education team comprises of a bespoke Student Support Service, which provides information, advice and guidance to students, their parents/carers and the professionals that support them. The team also has a policy team which focuses on bringing around change to the things that matter to blind and partially sighted students when in and transitioning into and from post-11 education. Tara has worked in charity sector for over 18 years, 12 of which have been in the sight loss sector. Tara has a strong background in campaign and policy work and chairs various sector groups.

Rosie Dempsey is the Deputy Lead of RNIB’s Children, Young People, Families & Education service with a particular focus on the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Rosie provides strategic leadership on campaigns and policy related to children and young people with a vision impairment across the devolved nations including education, health and social care and transitions.

Daniel Downes is Team Lead- Salford Visual Impairment Education Team. I have worked as a teacher for children with visual impairments for the past twelve years and am currently the Team Lead for the VI Education Team in Salford. I have a specific interest in supporting children with CVI and have spent the last few years working on approaches to assessment and intervention for this group of students. I am also working on a PhD which aims to explore the effects of implicit bias and social stigma on the early development of children with visual impairment.

Hannah Downs is an MSI/Deafblind Specialist Teacher and MSI Coordinator, North Kent Area Coordinator. Hannah worked in primary schools, including as a Senco, before training as an MSI Specialist Teacher as part of Kent Sensory Service’s ‘Grow Your Own’ scheme. She is now the MSI Coordinator for Kent, working as an MSI Specialist Teacher in the East Kent area.