Local authority VI education service provision for blind and partially sighted children and young people in 2015

Title: Freedom of Information (FOI) questions on local authority education provision for children and young people with vision impairment in England: 2015

Author: Sue Keil, Publisher: RNIB, Date of publication: 2016

Background

In June 2015 RNIB sent a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to all 152 local authorities (LAs) in England asking a range of questions about current and future education provision for children and young people with vision impairment.

This was the third RNIB FOI survey of LA educational provision for children and young people with vision impairment. The key service in co-ordinating and providing specialist support is the vision impairment (VI) education advisory service. Many VI services have been adversely affected by public sector cuts and a key aim of the first FOI request, sent in May 2013, was to benchmark existing provision in each LA against future policy decisions. The aim of the second and third surveys has been to monitor changes that may have taken place over each successive year, and to find out whether any further changes were planned in the near future. More specifically, we wanted to know what changes (if any) local authorities had made in response to the Children and Families Act 2014 and the new Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice.

The findings from this FOI request will be used to support RNIB local and national campaigning to protect specialist education services and provision for children and young people with vision impairment.

All of the 152 local authorities in England responded to the FOI request.

Key findings

  • Significant variation across LAs was found in terms of models of organisation, management, staffing, resources, and policies including eligibility for VI service support.
  • 71% of LAs used the National Sensory Impairment Partnership (NatSIP) framework to determine eligibility for VI service provision. However, because VI services differed in how they applied the criteria there was very little standardisation across the country.
  • Just over one in ten LAs based a child’s eligibility for VI service support on the level of visual acuity (VA) with the threshold set at 6/18 or higher, and/or required to be registered as blind or partially sighted. This raises concerns about what (if any) specialist support is available in the LAs concerned, for children with VA below this threshold whose vision impairment is still likely to impact on their development and learning.
  • There was also a great deal of variation between LAs in their criteria for EHC plans for blind and partially sighted children and young people, with nearly one in three making no direct reference to vision impairment. 
  • 26,067 children and young people up to the age of 25 were identified who were receiving specialist educational provision for their vision impairment in 2015. This includes children and young people with VI who were on VI service caseloads and those known to VI services but not directly supported by them (eg pupils in VI resourced schools, or those being educated outside the LA)
  • The number of children on specialist teacher (QTVI) caseloads varied significantly between LAs. While some variation might be expected due to the characteristics and needs of learners on VI service caseloads, in 12 LAs extremely high ratios of one QTVI to around 100 children and young people with VI were found.
  • Over the past 3 years LAs have responded in different ways to the challenges posed by cuts to public sector funding. While some LAs appear to recognise the importance of having a well resourced VI or sensory service, others seem not to appreciate the value of specialist staff and have either gone down a more generalist route, or have cut VI service staffing levels. The result is a rationing of specialist VI service provision in some LAs. The current situation is one of significant variation across LAs. For children, young people with vision impairment and their families this means that access to specialist educational provision from the VI service is a postcode lottery.