Finding a suitable school

Most children with vision impairment are educated in mainstream schools. Our research shows that 64 per cent of children with vision impairment between 5-16 years are educated in mainstream schools or academies, or mainstream schools which are additionally resourced for blind and partially sighted pupils.

Some children, however, require a specialist placement for some or all of their education. If your child has a severe vision impairment or additional needs or disabilities, your child may get the best support in this setting.

Support from the local authority

For support in finding a school, we strongly advise that you contact your local authority's visual impairment teaching service for information and advice about your local provision. You will be allocated a teacher trained to support children with vision impairment who can offer invaluable guidance from infancy through to your child going on to further education and employment. You should automatically be referred to this service by the Eye Clinic when your child is diagnosed with a vision impairment.

This is an important contact for educational advice and guidance about your child. You can access this support for your child from birth.

For information about the role of specialist visual impairment teaching services, visit our resources for parents of blind and partially sighted children. 

To get in touch with a specialist teacher, contact our Helpline on 0303 123 9999  or email helpline@rnib.org.uk and we can give you the name and contact details of someone in your area.

For details of how your child can be supported in school, and how special educational needs support is organised, visit special educational needs and inclusion.

Types of school

Mainstream schools

Mainstream schools are controlled by a governing body, funded by the local authority (LA) or in the case of academies, for example, are funded directly by central government through the Department for Education (DfE). They have access to the full range of LA support services.

Where the LA issues a statement of special educational needs (SEN), it is required by law to name a mainstream school on it. However, if doing so would prevent other children from being educated efficiently, or you request a special school, a special school would be named instead.

If you choose a school outside your local area, you may want to consider your child's social needs. For example you may feel your child would be happier attending the same school as their brothers or sisters, or friends in the local community.

Resourced schools

Some schools have "resource bases" for pupils with vision impairment. In these schools, there may be a base for the local visual impairment service. Other schools will have no additional unit, and focus on total inclusion. See our list of schools with a resource-base for blind or partially sighted pupils.

Special schools

Special schools cater for pupils who have special educational needs. These needs may relate to physical, learning, hearing or visual difficulties; to social emotional and behavioural difficulties; or to autistic spectrum disorders.

Some special schools are very specific about the needs for which they cater. Others are more generic and have pupils with a range of diverse needs.

Your child must have a statement of SEN to attend a special school, but could be assessed at one before their statement is finalised.

We have a list of schools specifically for children with vision impairments, or the resources to support them:

If your child has complex or additional needs, visit learning with complex needs.

Residential or day schools

Many non-maintained or independent special schools have residential provision. Pupils can still attend on a daily basis if they live close enough to make daily travelling possible.

Most special schools that are maintained by local authorities only have day provision. However, some, especially those serving a large catchment area, may have some residential accommodation.

Finding the right special school

Approximately two per cent of pupils with vision impairment up to the age of 16 attend special schools specifically for blind and partially sighted pupils. A larger group, 32 per cent, attend other types of special schools - for example, ones that are especially equipped to support children with learning or physical difficulties.

Finding the right special school may be daunting, so gather information on all the possible schools and make sure you visit them. Make sure you talk to your local authority for support.

We have a list of schools specifically for children with vision impairments.

If your child has complex or additional needs, visit learning with complex needs.

Visiting a School – what to look for

Visiting a school to try to gain a picture of whether you feel it could meet the needs of your son or daughter is very important, but it can be a daunting task.

This is a list of things that you might want to look at and ask questions about. It's not an exhaustive list, and exactly what you need to find out will depend on the specific needs of your child.

Things to remember

  • Don't be afraid to ask questions and to ask to see specific features.
  • You may find it helpful to make notes during the visit.
  • If you realise that you have forgotten something, don't be afraid to phone up after the visit.
  • If a school does not meet all your requirements at the time of your initial visit, don't forget that it may be possible to get some things changed if you decide that this is the school that can best meet your child's needs.
  • Don't ignore your "gut reaction"! You may find that a school doesn't show many features that you are looking for, but that the positive attitude of the staff overrides this. It is often harder to change attitudes than to make other adaptations, so a positive "can do" attitude goes a long way!

Questions to ask

The majority of questions are phrased so that a "yes" answer is desirable.

People and organisation

  • What class or group will my child be in?
  • What is the ratio of staff to children in this class or group?
  • What access will my child have to a qualified teacher of the visually impaired?
  • Are there any support staff who are specifically designated for pupils with sight problems?
  • Do support staff have opportunities to plan with the teacher(s)?
  • How is the type and amount of support that my child will need decided?
  • Would support also foster my child's independence?
  • Have all school staff had training in visual impairment? If so, what kind of training?
  • Does a mobility teacher visit the school on a regular basis?
  • Is there a school nurse on site?
  • What are the arrangements for physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy if my child needs these?
  • Will my child have a key worker in the school?
  • Is a system of daily home-school communication in place and will this be in a form that I can access?
  • Will I be involved in decisions about my child? How?
  • Is here a buddy system in place in the school?
  • Are there, or have there been, any other pupils in the school who have a vision impairment? 
  • Are there links with any other schools that have pupils who have vision impairment?

Resources and the curriculum

  • Is there a range of ICT equipment that my child could access?
  • Does the facility to enlarge printed material exist?
  • Does the means to produce tactile material exist?
  • Does the school library have a good range of large print, tactile, audio or multi-sensory material?
  • Is there any special equipment for visually impaired pupils to use in specific subjects, eg food tech, maths, science, PE etc?
  • Do teaching areas have sufficient sockets to enable electrical equipment or task lighting to be used by my child?
  • Will my child be able to access all the areas of the curriculum, bearing in mind that at secondary level some areas of the curriculum may pose special challenges?
  • How will my child be included in PE and team games?
  • If my child has to be withdrawn from certain lessons (eg for mobility or physiotherapy) how will he/she catch up?
  • Can braille or a tactile reading system be taught in the school?
  • If my child needs to use a communication system other than speech, what system will be used and how many other children in the school use this?
  • Will my child be able to access after-school clubs?

The school environment

  • Is the lighting good - in classrooms, corridors, hall, dining areas, on stairs etc?
  • Are there blinds or curtains that can control glare if this is a problem?
  • Is there good colour contrast throughout the school?
  • Do the edges of steps and stairs have good contrast?      
  • Are class and teaching areas free of clutter in circulation areas?
  • Are there accessible storage areas where my child's special equipment can be safely stored?
  • Does the school provide a generally quiet teaching environment in which it is easy to hear?
  • Are signs easy to read - and is there the potential for tactile signage?

Outside

  • Are there separate play areas for ball games?
  • Are pathways and edges clearly defined? 
  • Are there seats or benches in areas of shade?
  • Are vehicles well separated from pedestrians?

References

All statistics are taken from the national questionnaire survey of local education authority visual impairment advisory services (including numbers of blind and partially sighted children and their educational placements), by RNIB Research Officer, Sue Keil.

Knowledge and research hub

We are a leading source of information on sight loss and the issues affecting blind and partially sighted people. Access our statistics, evidence and reports in our research hub.

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