An introduction to special needs provision and inclusion into educational settings for children who are blind or partially sighted.
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, 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).
In September 2014 a new law came into place in England which changes the way children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) receive support.
The Children and Families Act 2014 introduced a number of changes to the SEN system, which we cover below.
Children in mainstream schools receive help through a system called SEN support in the form of a four part cycle (assess, plan, do, review). For a child with vision impairment the SEN Code of Practice says a qualified teacher of children with vision impairment (QTVI) should be involved.
Education, Health, and Care (EHC) plans have replaced the statement of special educational needs. These plans will cover young people from birth to age 25. The plans should be focused on the outcomes your child is expected to achieve. Any targets, including ones related to vision impairment, must be specific and set out what support your child needs to achieve those outcomes. Parents and young people can have control of a personal budget to buy support detailed in the EHC plan.
Young people who currently have a statement of special educational needs will be eligible for transfer to an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan by April 2018. The legal force of statements remains in place until all children and young people have transferred.
If your child is being supported through SEN support, and you are concerned about their progress, you may want to discuss with the QTVI whether your child needs an assessment for an EHC plan. The Equality Act says that schools must proactively consider the needs of children with vision impairment and make reasonable adjustments to ensure they are not disadvantaged in their education. Schools should not wait until a child falls behind before additional support is provided.
The local authority must involve you in this assessment and give you the support and information to help you in making decisions. A QTVI must be involved, and can advise you on what they need and will also know the school options that are available. Local authorities are also encouraged to give you a single point of contact (key worker) to support you by coordinating the assessment. This could be the QTVI. You may also be offered an ‘independent supporter’ from the voluntary or private sector to help you through the process.
Local authorities are required to publish a “local offer” describing what they expect to be available to local children with SEN and disabled children in the local area, and neighbouring areas and nationally, if it is provision that they typically use. This should include information on regular and specialist leisure opportunities, as well as statutory education support services
To find your local offer download our spreadsheet which contains a list of all English local authorities alongside a link to their local offer webpage for visual impairment or sensory education services for babies, children and young people.
The annual review process for any child with an EHC plan is set out by legislation and local authority policies. The QTVI from the local authority sensory service can support by submitting a report or attending the meeting.
The process will involve reviewing the needs of the child or young person as set out in the Plan. For a learner with a vision impairment, the key areas for consideration are most likely to be:
'Getting support for your child' is for parents, setting out a series of scenarios which try to answer some of the questions that parent carers will have about their child during the transition to the new system.
Read our updated SEN guide that looks at the processes around ensuring a child with special educational needs gets all the support that they need.
It’s never too early to start! Children learn so much through communicating and playing with you and other children. The new code of practice makes clear that, for children under two years, a QTVI should work with you to help you understand your child’s needs and to get other support. The QTVI may visit you at home to provide practical support, answer your questions and work out with you what your child needs.