Visually impaired children falling behind sighted peers, RNIB warns

Children with vision impairment may not be receiving the support needed to achieve the same standard of success as fully sighted children, the charity said

Young person reading braille

A “worrying” attainment gap between visually impaired (VI) children and their fully sighted peers means thousands are failing to reach their potential, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has warned.

Funding for specialist VI education services is not stable, with children and young people with vision impairment facing a “postcode lottery” for the specialist support they need, Caireen Sutherland, the RNIB’s head of education, said.

RNIB research has found that three quarters of local authorities in England have cut or frozen VI education service budgets at least once in the last four years.

At the same time, there has been a 10% increase in the number of children recorded as having vision impairment in these authorities.

Approximately 41,000 VI people under the age of 25 are “at risk of inequitable education leading to reduced employment opportunities,” the RNIB said, adding that 70% of VI children are in mainstream school.

The attainment gap measures the difference between achievement grades for fully sighted children compared to children with VI in England.

Between fully sighted and VI children at Key Stage 1 it currently stands at 33% and this continues through to GCSE age, according to RNIB research.

The charity is “deeply concerned about the attainment gap between children with vision impairment and their sighted classmates,” Sutherland said.

It has also emphasised the impact the attainment gap can have in the long-term, highlighting that 20% of 16–25-year-olds with vision impairment are not in employment, education or training. This is compared to 12% of fully sighted young adults.

The RNIB is calling for the disparity to be addressed as a matter of urgency, in order to improve provision, support and education for children with VI.

It is asking schools to adopt its Curriculum Framework for Children and Young People with Vision Impairment, “to ensure we take positive steps in improving education provision for children and young people with vision impairment.”

The framework has been designed to support children and young people with VI to have access to equitable education, and provides support for specialist skill development, as well as interventions, and best practice language to be used by children and young people, their families, and education professionals who work with them.

Sutherland said: “The figures speak for themselves – there are clear and concerning disparities in the quality of education from primary school all the way up to GCSE level and beyond. If changes aren’t made and sustained, we will continue to see a rise in the number of young people with VI not getting into employment, and therefore not leading the lives they may wish to lead.”

The RNIB’s full insight report can be viewed on the charity’s website.