An introduction to special needs provision and inclusion into educational settings for children who are blind or partially sighted.

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).

The SEN Process – information for England

Statutory support and provision for children with special educational needs is enshrined in The Children and Families Act 2014 and SEND Code of Practice.

(Information about devolved nations available from our Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales teams.)

SEN support

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) plan

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.

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 (2010) 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.

Local offer – find your local authority vision impairment service

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 vision impairment or sensory education services for babies, children and young people.

Annual review

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:

  • Identification and acknowledgement of the need for all materials to be provided in a defined format and the resources and staffing needed to achieve this.
  • Identification of staff support necessary to ensure health and safety and access to activities within the college, school or setting.
  • The need for a regular ICT / equipment assessment, subsequent monitoring, training and evaluation of effective use.
  • Review of need for habilitation/mobility training to develop independence and broader life skills that are specific to the difficulties due to vision impairment.

SEN guide

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.

First steps to getting support for your child in early years

It’s never too early to start! Children learn so much through communicating and playing with you and other children. The 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.

Research evidence shows that providing structured support as early as possible from birth/diagnosis secures the best outcomes for a child’s early development and also lessens parental stress. The Developmental Journal for babies and children with Vision Impairment is a structured intervention framework which scaffolds and celebrates a child’s early years progress. More details are in our Early Years section.

Other sources of support