Title: Local authority VI education service provision for children and young people with vision impairment in 2019

Authors: Emma Edwards and Tom Crawley, Publisher: RNIB, Date of publication: 2019


Children and young people with VI require a high level of specialist provision to learn on equal terms with sighted children. Having the right support in place can remove the barriers to learning and enable them to develop the specialist skills they need to succeed not just at school but as adults with full lives.

In order to better understand and monitor the provision of specialist education services for children with a vision impairment, RNIB runs an annual survey of local authorities across England. This report summarises findings from the most recent Freedom of Information (FOI) survey in 2019.

Whilst this research has identified pockets of good practice, overall, the findings show a system of specialist provision under significant pressure.

Key findings

Service provision

  • Over the past two years, a quarter (23%) of local authorities have cut funding for their VI service.
  • A further 21% have frozen their budgets.
  • When inflation is accounted for over the same period, it reveals that three quarters of local authorities cut or have not increased funding for their VI service in line with inflation.
  • Over 5,000 children and young people with vision impairment are supported by services where budgets have been cut in the last two years. A further 13,300 CYP are accessing services that have failed to keep their budgets in line with inflation, meaning real term cuts to funding. In total, these children make up 61% of all children supported by VI services across England.
  • There could be further cuts in the pipeline with a quarter (24%) of LAs reporting there are current or proposed reviews of the VI service that will affect the way it is organised, managed or funded.

CYP supported by the service

  • The total number of pupils aged 0-25 on vision impairment service caseloads, or known to these services, was 30,326. This is likely to be an under estimate as not all local authorities responded, however it still represents a 7% increase from 2017 when data was last collected in full.
  • The total number of braillists supported across 120 local authorities was 869. This figure would likely be much higher if figures were available for the remaining 32 authorities who did not supply figures.

Caseload and capacity

  • Over the past two years, 43% of local authorities recorded a decrease in the FTE QTVI posts. Across these authorities, almost 50 FTE QTVI posts were lost from 2017 to 2019.
  • Just over a quarter (28%) of 129 local authorities had an average QTVI caseload ratio of over 100, which is equivalent to 63 FTE QTVI posts. This figure has increased from 21% in 2017, which was equivalent to 43.2 FTE QTVI posts. A ratio of over 100 students per QTVI raises concerns about capacity to support high numbers of students.
  • When asked about reduction in support, a quarter (23%) of authorities have reduced support for children due to service capacity or service restructure.
  • 16% of VI service managers do not hold a mandatory qualification for VI, MSI or HI.