There are around 25,500 children under 16 in the UK with vision impairment of some kind. Of these, around 9,500 are registered as blind or partially sighted. Around 20% of young people with vision impairment have additional special educational needs or disabilities and a further 30% have complex needs.
What is visual impairment?
The term "visual impairment” covers a wide range of sight issues. At one end of the scale, a child may have low vision, having difficulty recognising faces across a street. At the other end, a severe sight impairment is defined as being unable to see at 3 metres what a normally sighted person can see at 60 meters.
How does visual impairment affect education?
Where a child has a visual impairment and no other special educational needs or disabilities their education attainment may be slightly lower than other children with no additional needs. A disproportionate amount of children with visual impairment feature among the group of pupils identified as gifted and talented.
Education can be more of a challenge for a child with visual impairment but many children do very well with learning. A child with a visual impairment learns differently from a sighted child, relying on senses other than sight to acquire information. They may require additional attention and assistance to learn the sorts of things a sighted child may learn just from watching others. This is something we don’t often think about, but children (and adults) learn a great deal simply through sight. For example, a sighted child may see a dog in the street and easily tie it with the concept of a dog in a story or song. For a child with a visual impairment they may need to physically touch a dog from head to tail to appreciate what a dog is and how this relates to stories or facts they hear.
Can children with visual impairment attend mainstream school?
The majority of children with vision impairment - around 64% - are educated in mainstream schools. Some of these schools may have additional resources specifically for children who are blind or partially sighted. Others may focus on including a partially sighted totally within all lessons etc.
Some children do need extra help and will require a specialist placement. This may be the case if a child has vision impairment as well as special educational needs or disabilities. Approximately 2% of children with a visual impairment attend special schools specifically for blind or partially sighted children.