Special educational needs and inclusion

An introduction to special needs provision and inclusion into educational settings for children who are blind or partially sighted.

What are Special Educational Needs?

Special educational needs (SEN) are factors which prevent a child from learning in the same way as other children. In Scotland, the term "additional support needs" (ASN) is used.

Almost all blind and partially sighted children have SEN or ASN, but not always to a great extent. Nearly half of children who have vision impairment have additional needs (such as hearing impairment, physical disability or learning difficulties.)

Getting started with SEN support

SEN reforms

New legislation brought about by the Children and Families Act 2014, means that statements for special educational needs will be replaced by Education, Health and Care Plans. The principle of setting out what an individual child needs remains the same. Changes only affect families living in England and nothing will change until September 2014.

Content on this page refers to the system of statutory assessment and the statement process, which until September 2014, you can still apply for. We will be updating our content to reflect the new changes as they are gradually rolled out. 

For more details regarding the Children and Families Act 2014 and the new Code of Practice visit:

Education is changing - Contact a Family: http://www.cafamily.org.uk/advice-and-support/sen-national-advice-service/education-is-changing/

Resources on the Children and Families Bill - Council for Disabled Children: http://www.councilfordisabledchildren.org.uk/what-we-do/policy/sen-and-disability-reforms/key-documents-on-the-children-and-families-bill/cdcs-resources-on-the-children-and-families-bill

A crucial contact as you approach your child’s education is your local specialist vision impairment teaching service, staffed by Qualified Teachers of (children with) Visual Impairment (QTVIs).

You should have been referred to this service when your child was diagnosed at an eye clinic. For more details about VI teaching services and how to contact your local service, visit our resources for parents of blind or partially sighted children.  

You can also read our SEN guide that looks at the processes around ensuring a child with special educational needs gets all the support that they need.

Assessment and plans

Any extra support your child gets at school should be based on their individual needs. Depending on the severity of your child's SEN, the school will provide varying levels of support.

Your child should have a joint assessment of their needs so that:

  • Your child's teacher understands the implications of the vision impairment for the way the child can learn best.

  • The support your child needs can be put in place, such as any special resources, extra staff support or adaptations to make the school easier to move around.

You can contribute to the assessment with your ideas and experiences about what support your child will need at nursery or school. Following an assessment, depending on how much support your child will need, your child may have a Statement of Special Educational Needs which sets out all the help needed, and who will deliver it.

It is proposed that Statements for special educational needs will be replaced with a  Education, Health and Care Plans during 2014 under the new Children and Families Act. The principle of setting out what a child needs remains the same.

School Action Plus

Your child may not have a Statement but can still receive support to meet their special educational needs through an individual plan. This is currently part of School Action Plus which means that the school will co-ordinate meeting your child's needs with the involvement of specialist services from outside the school, such as the Local Authority Visual Impairment Service which employs qualified teachers of visual impairment.

School Action means that the child's needs are met from within the staff and resources of the school, rather than involving specialist services from outside the school. Some partially sighted children are supported effectively at this level.

Under the new Children and Families Act, it is proposed that School Action and School Action Plus will be replaced by one joint category.

There is more information about how children with Special Educational Needs are supported at school at the Department for Education website.

Individual Education Plan (IEP)

Your child may also have an Individual Education Plan (IEP), developed by the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) or other teacher(s) in school which sets out particular learning activities, goals and targets.

For more information about assessment and support for your child, visit our early years education section, or choosing a school

A child’s special educational needs can be met in mainstream schools or in special schools. The decision about where a child is placed will need to be made specifically relating to the individual child. More details about choosing the right setting are in our choosing a school section.

What does inclusion mean?

Inclusion involves developing the attitudes, skills and resources of schools to enable the widest range of children to fully access and participate in the life of a school. This includes teaching and learning, extra-curricular activities, social and emotional aspects, governance and the physical environment of the school premises.

Inclusion means that local authorities are required to consider the way the curriculum, teaching, funding and the school premises themselves meet the needs of all children.

Your child's school must also involve all parents and carers, staff and governors in school life, including those with disabilities.

The legal responsibilities of schools to include people with disabilities are set out by the Equality Act

How are children with vision impairment included in mainstream schools?

A range of support options are available to meet the needs of your child in school.


Support can sometimes be provided by a group of people in school, who can directly support your child in their lessons with guidance from a Qualified Teacher of (children with) Visual Impairment (QTVI). For more information about QTVIs and how to contact them, see resources for parents of blind and partially sighted children.  

Sometimes a Teaching Assistant is employed by the school to help ensure that your child has appropriately adapted materials, and/or to spend time alongside your child in the classroom to help them take a full part in learning experiences. The teaching assistant will work closely with the class teacher, inclusion manager (sometimes called the SENCO or special educational needs co-ordinator) and QTVI to ensure your child can take part in all subjects. A school or play provision might also have amongst their staff team an equalities named coordinator (ENCO) who will work with the SENCO and other staff to support your child's holistic equalities needs and inclusion.

Sometimes a Teaching Assistant works directly with a child to ensure they understand the lesson, but at other times the teaching assistant spends time adapting materials for future lessons or supporting others. The aim is to enable your child to access the curriculum as independently as possible.

In our Education professionals section, we have a position statement about the effective deployment of teaching assistants which may be of interest.

Equipment and technology

Sometimes, or in addition to support from staff, children can be provided with equipment, technology or adapted learning materials, such as large print or braille, to help them access their school work.

Physical environment

Changes can also be made to the physical environment, through lighting, signage, use of colour contrast, accessible storage for equipment, positioning within a classroom (e.g. close the the board) so help a child with vision impairment, to maximise learning and the development of independence.

Timetabling and organisation

Another form of support can be making adaptations to e.g. routines and timetables so that children with vision impairment can have more time for tests and exams, allowances for learning specific skills such as braille, touch-typing mobility.

Adapting the curriculum

We have a large amount of guidance for teachers, teaching assistants and QTVIs about how to make the curriculum accessible for children and young people with vision impairment. Visit our Education Professionals section for full details.

Early Support guidance

RNIB wrote the Early Support guidance for families with a child with vision impairment. Early Support is the government initiative to support families of disabled children. There are four booklets which cover all aspects of raising a child with vision impairment, including education. Information for parents: visual impairment 3: School Years has specific information about SEN support. You can download this guidance from the Early Support website.

You can download the Department for Education's (DfE) 'Special Educational Needs (SEN): A guide for parents and carers' from the DfE website.

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