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Learning with complex needs

When a child has multiple or complex needs, extra support may be needed to help them access education and reach their potential.

The following content refers to children with vision impairment (VI) 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, please refer to ‘Getting the right support.

Our guide ‘Choosing a school’ is a useful document and we have further information about the professionals, types of support plan, legislation, and ‘How your child will be supported’.

Options and opportunities

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

When a child has additional complex needs, they usually attend a special school within their local authority (education authority in Northern Ireland). These schools, and the staff and teachers who work at them, are best placed to assess, monitor and respond to your child's needs and give them the necessary support and interventions that they might not receive at a mainstream school.

In some circumstances, however, children attend residential schools further from home. Each local authority has its own approach to educating children with VI 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 vision impairment 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.

Key initial contacts

An important contact is your local authority’s Qualified Teacher for children and young people with Vision Impairments (QTVI) or VI Teaching Service. They are part of the wider Sensory Support Team, and you can usually find their details on your local authority's website; in England, they will be on the Local Offer pages. Your QTVI can guide you through the process of choosing and starting school, and the assessment process. Many VI 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 [email protected]

Assessing your child's educational needs

If your child has a VI, or VI 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 from suitably trained professionals, 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 usually be co-ordinated by the SEND/ALN/ASL 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, social worker and other involved professionals. We cover an extensive list of professionals and their roles on Who does what in eye care?

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 or you can feed these back in another way.

If your child has complex needs, the assessment may result in an Education Health and Care (EHC) Plan (England), or an Individual Development Plan in Wales, a statement in Northern Ireland or a Child's Plan or Co-ordinated Support Plan in Scotland 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.

Find out more about getting the right support

Special Educational Needs (SEN) Schools

SEN schools cater for pupils whose needs cannot be met in mainstream settings. These needs may relate to physical, learning, hearing, or visual difficulties; to social emotional and behavioural difficulties; or to autism spectrum disorders. Some SEN schools are very specific about the needs for which they cater. Others are more generic and have pupils with a range of diverse needs. In England, your child must have an Education Health and Care Plan to attend a special school, but could visit and be assessed at a school before their plan is finalised.

Learn more about the different types of schools