Enough is enough – sight loss charity calls for urgent funding to improve education support for vision impaired children

A new Freedom of Information (FOI) report carried out in England by sight loss charity the Royal National institute of Blind People (RNIB) shows a continuation of budget cuts and freezes are seriously impacting on specialist education support for children and young people living with a vision impairment.

  • 42 per cent of local authority VI education teams have had budgets cut or frozen in the last year.
  • 61 per cent of local authorities have reported a decrease or freeze in the number of specialist VI teachers.
  • North West of England is the area most affected – 57 per cent of local authorities have experienced budget cuts.
  • RNIB urgently calls on Department of Education to increase funding so children with a vision impairment aren’t disadvantaged.

According to RNIB, there are over 35,000 children and young people aged 0-25 with vision impairment. The majority of these children are in mainstream education, highlighting the importance of having specialist VI teachers in mainstream schools.

RNIB’s latest FOI report shows that, despite an increase in the need for support by education specialists, nearly half (42 per cent) of local authority VI education teams in England have experienced real term cuts through budgets being cut or frozen in the past year.

Additionally, the charity found that 60 per cent of local authorities reported a decrease or freeze in the number of specialist VI teachers in the last 12 months. As a result, half of all children and young people with vision impairment will have their access to specialist support adversely affected.

The North West is the region most affected by the cuts, with 57 per cent of local authorities experiencing cuts and freezes to their budgets. The South East experienced the second highest number of budget cuts or freezes, where 54 per cent of local authorities have had their budgets cut or frozen.

Caireen Sutherland, RNIB’s Head of Education, said: “These figures are just the latest in a trend of budgets being cut or frozen. From RNIB’s last five years of Freedom of Information reports, we’ve seen a consistent trend in budgets for specialist VI education being cut or frozen, with more than a third of local authorities VI education teams having their budget cut at least once.”

Laura Mott from Essex is mum to Mila, eight, who was born partially sighted, and Enya, four who is registered severely sight impaired. She describes getting support for Mila in school as an ‘uphill struggle’, to the point where she was forced to change Mila’s school.

Laura said: “Mila’s old school failed to provide adequate resources from the offset. They always told us there was no budget and that, because Mila was doing okay, they didn’t see the point in offering her one on one support. When we finally got allocated an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), we were told as there were only 11 weeks left of the school year, they wouldn’t be making changes to the support Mila required. At this point, we’d had three years of inadequate support for Mila, and they still continued to not support her even when they had the money that would have allowed them to do so. We seemed to have nobody on our side.

“Both Mila and Enya started at a new school together in September and we couldn’t be happier. We finally feel positive and most of all, our girls are happy. The girls are thriving and making progress that we couldn’t see possible at the previous school. I just hope that the lack of government funding, and the ongoing battle of increasing costs for the school doesn’t prove to become an ongoing problem, and the girls get the education that they rightly deserve.”

Caireen continues: “As an organisation, we are extremely concerned that caseloads continue to rise and access to vital specialist support is being reduced. This will not only impact on education, but will have a significant impact on children’s opportunities in later life.”

“We are pleased the Government has committed to improving the numbers of teachers for children with sensory impairments in the recent SEND Review Improvement Plan. For this to succeed, however, we finally need adequate and protected funding for local authority VI education teams.”

“Many of the SEND Review reforms will not be in place until 2025 at the earliest. On top of these reforms, we need immediate actions from the Government to improve access to specialist VI support now so children can succeed not just in education, but later life too.”

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