Learning with complex needs

The following content refers to children with vision impairment and complex needs.

If your child does not have complex or additional needs, a range of support options are available to meet the needs of your child in a mainstream school setting. The process to get these in place is covered in our section Getting the right support and you may find it useful to read about what to look for when choosing a mainstream school for a visually impaired child.

What are the options?Mom wiht child in her arms

Most blind and partially sighted children are educated in mainstream schools, or in special schools that do not specialise in vision impairment.

When a child has additional complex needs, they usually attend a special school within their local authority. In exceptional circumstances, however, children attend residential schools further from home. Each local authority has its own approach to educating children with sight problems and complex needs. Ask your local authority for information about the special educational needs provision where you live, and arrange to visit the schools that may suit your child's needs.

Starting early

It's never too early to begin exploring the educational opportunities for your child. Many children with sight problems and complex needs benefit from starting school or nursery at an early age. Some children begin on a part-time basis when they are two or three years old.

Who should I contact?

An important contact is your local authority's qualified teacher for visually impaired children (QTVI) or Visual Impairment Teaching Service. Your QTVI can guide you through the process of choosing and starting school, and the assessment process. Many Visual Impairment Services offer support in the early years, sometimes from birth. For details of your local service or teacher, phone the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or email helpline@rnib.org.uk.

Assessing your child's educational needs

If your child has vision impairment or vision impairment with additional needs, their special educational needs will be assessed to help decide which school setting will be best, and to make sure that any extra support (such as a teaching assistant), equipment or specialist help can be provided. A formal assessment of your child's educational needs can take place any time after the age of two years, or even earlier if you make a specific request. This will be co-ordinated by the Children's Services Team of your local authority.

Who's involved?

All of the professionals involved in caring for and helping your child can contribute to this assessment process. These include the ophthalmologist (consultant eye specialist), other hospital specialists, health visitor, speech and language therapist, physiotherapist, visual impairment teacher and social worker.

How assessment works

You will also be asked to contribute to the assessment process. You can write down your views about the strengths, abilities and special needs of your child.

If your child has complex needs, it's likely that the assessment will result in an Education Health and Care (EHC) Plan, which describes your child's needs and how the education authority proposes to meet them. This plan will be reviewed annually throughout your child's education.

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 an Education Health and Care Plan to attend a special school, but could be assessed at one before their plan is finalised.

Find out more about choosing a school for more information. 

Insight Online: The essential read for education professionals who support children and young people with vision impairment.

We bring together what you need to know so you can provide the best support possible for your learners, including:

  • Ideas to engage students in the classroom
  • Tips to promote mobility, independence and wellbeing
  • Shared experience from your professional community

Go to Insight Online

Boy with vision impairment in class