RNIB report on local authority VI education service provision

We’ve recently added a report to our Knowledge hub which looks at VI education service provision across England

The report is based on a Freedom of Information request to all 152 local authorities (LAs) in England asking a range of questions about current and future education provision for children and young people with vision impairment.

The key service in co-ordinating and providing specialist support is the vision impairment (VI) education advisory service. Many VI services have been adversely affected by public sector cuts and a key aim of the FOI request was to benchmark existing provision in each LA against future policy decisions.

All of the 152 local authorities in England responded to the FOI request. As one local authority has no children or young people with vision impairment recorded, the findings are based on returns from 151 LAs in England.

Key Findings

Almost 25,700 blind and partially sighted children and young people were on VI service caseloads in 2013

  • This is over 12,500 more than the number of pupils recorded by DfE as having vision impairment as their primary or secondary SEN

Since April 2011, 25 LAs (17 per cent) have reduced or withdrawn specialist VI service support for certain groups of children and young people

  • The two groups most affected are pupils with complex needs in special schools, and children whose level of vision impairment is no longer considered to be of sufficient severity to meet the criteria for VI service support

89 per cent of LAs use the National Sensory Impairment Partnership (NatSIP) criteria - or a modified version - to determine eligibility for VI service support

  • The NatSIP criteria combine levels of need with professional assessment

In a small number of LAs, a pupil's level of visual acuity (VA) appears to be the only criterion for eligibility for specialist VI support

  • Having the level of VA as the criterion for support - particularly where the threshold is set high at 6/18 as in some LAs - risks excluding children with good VA but with other types of visual difficulty, or children with 'mild' vision impairment combined with other 'mild' types of SEN
  • Support levels should be based on a professional assessment of a child's functional vision

630 qualified teachers of pupils with vision impairment (QTVI) were employed by VI services, 57 of whom were in training

  • 40 QTVI posts have been lost or frozen over a 3-year period between 2010 and 2013

Teaching assistants (TAs) were directly employed by the VI service in 96 LAs

  • 572 TAs were directly employed by the VI service
  • 14 (as FTE) central TA posts have been lost or frozen since April 2011
  • Over 2,500 TAs were directly employed by schools
  • This is under-represents the true number as several LAs were unable to provide information about the number of TAs employed directly by schools
  • This raises the questions - who recruits, trains and supervises TAs in these schools and what is the nature and quality of support they are providing to pupils with VI?

113 mobility officers were employed by VI services in 96 LAs

  • In a further 13 LAs a children's mobility officer was externally commissioned or employed and/or funded by social care
  • It is unclear what mobility provision was made in the remaining 42 LAs

27 per cent  of LAs had seen changes to the organisation and funding of the VI service since April 2011.

31 per cent of LAs had proposals in place for future changes in VI service organisation, management and/or funding, or were reviewing the service within the next year.

Conclusion

RNIB's FOI request to local authorities was made at a time of major changes to SEN policy and provision at national and local government levels. It is evident that cuts to local authority budgets following the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review have led to a reduction in support for children with vision impairment in many LAs in England. Changes to VI service organisation, funding and/or staffing levels have taken place or are proposed in well over half of LAs. Through the FOI, RNIB now has baseline information that will be used for monitoring the effect of public sector cuts in the future on provision for children and young people with vision impairment.

You can view the full report in the education section of our Knowledge hub.

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