An introduction to special needs provision and inclusion into educational settings for children who are blind or partially sighted. This page outlines the general common practices in the UK, then gives specific advice for England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

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. In Wales this is known as “additional learning needs” or ALN.

Almost all blind and partially sighted children have SEN or ALN, these will differ for each individual. Nearly half of children who have vision impairment have additional needs (such as hearing impairment, physical disability or learning difficulties).

Regardless of their abilities, education settings have a responsibility to ensure that all of their pupils can access every part of that school’s provision. This includes lessons, playtime and playgrounds, after-school activities provided by the school, school trips, work experience, and the library and other school facilities.

Getting support

You can get support in education and at home from the time that your baby or child is identified as having a vision impairment. The names of the people supporting you and the legislation and guidelines for that support may vary depending on the country you live in and even your local council (sometimes called the Local Authority). The support will also vary depending on whether your child attends a mainstream, special, or private school.

Your school will normally make contact with the local authority to request support after consulting you, however you can use our Local Authority Contacts List to find the details for your local Special Educational Needs team should you need to get in touch with them. Please note that each country has its own tab on the spreadsheet:

Children and young people in mainstream childcare, schools, colleges, and universities throughout the UK receive help through a system called SEN support. This will be in the form of a four-part cycle (Assess, Plan, Do, Review) which we summarise below. For a child with vision impairment, a Qualified Teacher of children with Vision Impairment (QTVI) should be involved.

QTVI Factsheet (Word)

Our Early Years Education page outlines the support you can expect when your child is in nursery or with a childminder.

Our other pages in the Children’s Education section outline the support you can expect in mainstream schools and colleges.

Children in special schools will receive similar support however there may be differing support ratios, the teachers may be disability specialists, and the school may not follow the curriculum exactly, instead focusing on the core skills that your child needs to learn.

Children in private (fee-paying) schools might not receive support from QTVIs from local authority teams. All private schools are still bound by equal rights legislation so the school has to make their provision and premises accessible. The school and family need to come to a support agreement that covers funding and resourcing for the assessments and provision to meet the child’s needs.

The review cycle

Support in education settings is developed using the review cycle, which usually takes place throughout the course of the school year. Some cycles may be quicker if there are changes to circumstances, such as sight levels or education setting, or if current support isn’t meeting needs. The cycle is composed of 4 parts:

  • Assess
  • Plan
  • Do
  • Review

We briefly cover the parts of the review cycle below and explore them in greater depth in the country-specific guidelines linked after this section.

Assess

Your child’s Local Authority and  education setting must make an assessment of your child in relation to their medical needs. A Certificate of Visual Impairment or full Letter of Diagnosis may be required before an initial needs assessment is carried or a letter from the GP or specialist confirming your child’s medical needs may be enough to request an assessment. This process may be started earlier if your school notices a need that doesn’t yet have medical recognition. 

The assessment will cover your child’s activities and environments at school, and for older children and young people will also involve getting to and from school. It may also involve input from a number of other health, social, and education professionals.

Assessing an individual’s needs does not guarantee that they will receive support. Support will only be given where an individual needs help to engage fully and safely with their learning and environment.

Plan

Support plans are created based on the outcome of any assessments, and these will likely have significant input from and / or be coordinated by a QTVI. The support plan for your child should always be agreed on by everyone and clearly documented after a meeting. The plans should be centred around the targets your child needs to achieve and how they will achieve them.

Support plans for those with vision impairment commonly cover:

  • Specialist equipment such as a laptop, accessibility software, and training in its use.
  • Specialist  sessions in specific skill areas such as touch typing, Braille etc.
  • Work and exams provided in a required font size and type (large-print, electronic, or braille), with adapted images such as pictures and graphs.
  • Extra time for coursework and/or exams, and changes to routines and timetables.
  • A Learning Support Assistant who could act as a reader and/or scribe as well as supporting one-to-one with difficult aspects of lessons.
  • Scheduled study support sessions from the Student Support team.
  • Mobility training.
  • Difficult to adapt areas such as sports, maths, arts, or science.
  • Adjustments to lighting, signage, position in the class, and other environmental aspects
  • Training for teachers and support staff
  • Emotional wellbeing and confidence building

Do

Your child will then be able to settle into their work with the agreed provisions in place. With younger children, many adaptations will be made for them and school staff may give more support. As your child matures, they will learn to adapt the work for themselves and will become more independent, meaning they may not need as much support from other people in lessons.

Review

Support for your child should be reviewed on a yearly basis, and may need extra input before, during or after a big change in circumstances such as exams, moving schools or classes, or changes to their eye condition. You or your child, your child’s school, or the Local Authority can all request a meeting.

Any changes made to the plan should seek to develop and improve the support based on what your child needs. This might involve putting more help in place if your child is struggling or taking some help away if your child could be more independent.

It’s also common for light touches and brief check-ins to be made with the SENCo or class teacher every month or two if needed, such as at parents’ evenings or in a brief chat after school.

Contacting professionals

Communication is the most important thing to maintain between your family, the school, and the QTVI. Working together will help your child become as capable and independent as possible. It’s important to recognise what’s going well as well as what isn’t; use the positive impact as a base to build on while you are addressing anything that hasn’t worked.

Everyone (your child, the school, the QTVI, and you) has a responsibility to ensure that the process goes smoothly. Work together to resolve any issues and celebrate the successes.

Country specific advice

Our webpage on How Your Child Will Be Supported covers information specific to each country, including the professionals you’ll be in touch with and direct links to the guidelines they follow. You can use these for reference to help build the right structures around you and develop the support appropriate to your child.

Further support

Our team of regionally based Children, Young People and Family Support Officers are here to help. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, or you’d like to talk further about any of the above, then please get in touch with us via the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or by emailing [email protected].