RNIB survey of VI services in England and Wales 2012: report for England

Sue Keil


October 2012







2.3Population of pupils with visual impairment

3.Findings for England

3.1Response rates

3.2Organisation and funding of VI services

3.2.1Job title and role of respondent

3.2.2VI service management

3.2.3VI service organisation

3.2.4VI service funding

3.2.5Funding for academies

3.2.6Schools that are additionally resourced for pupils with visual impairment

3.3Numbers and characteristics of children and young people with visual impairment

3.3.1Population of pupils with visual impairment: previous surveys

3.3.2Population of pupils with visual impairment: current survey

3.3.3Additional SEN and/or disabilities

3.4Number of pupils with a statement of SEN

3.5Settings in which pupils with visual impairment are educated

3.5.1Primary aged pupils (nursery/reception to Year 6)

3.5.2Secondary aged pupils (Years 7 to 11)

3.5.3Years 12 and 13

3.6Support for children under the age of 3 years

3.6.1Support provided to early years children during term time

3.6.2Support provided to early years children during school holidays

3.7Literacy formats of blind and partially sighed pupils

3.7.1Number of braillists

3.7.2Main print size used by partially sighted pupils

3.7.3Additional information about literacy formats

3.8Groups of pupils whose needs are not being fully met

3.8.1Young people in FE or other post-school settings

3.8.2Children and young people in special (non-VI) schools

3.8.3Other pupil groups

3.9VI service policies

3.9.1Referral of babies and children from Health

3.9.2Eligibility criteria for VI service support

3.9.3VI service policy on statementing

3.9.4Annual reviews of pupils educated outside the LA

3.10VI service staffing

3.10.1 Qualifications held by VI service managers

3.10.2 Teachers of pupils with visual impairment employed directly by the VI service

3.10.3Teaching assistants supporting pupils with visual impairment

3.10.4Training of TAs who support pupils with visual impairment

3.10.5Other staff employed directly by the VI service

3.10.6Training needs within VI services

3.11How VI services measure impact

3.11.1Whether VI services evaluate the impact of their support on outcomes for pupils with visual impairment

3.11.2Methods used by VI services to measure impact

3.12Recent changes to VI services and provision for pupils with visual impairment

3.12.1Changes to VI service organisation and/or funding

3.12.2Loss of staff from VI services since April 2011

3.12.3Reduction in support for pupils with visual impairment

3.13Looking to the future

4.Summary and discussion of findings

4.1Population of children and young people with visual impairment

4.2Main literacy formats of pupils with visual impairment

4.3Educational provision for children and young people with visual impairment

4.4VI service organisation and management

4.5VI service staffing and staff training

4.6Changes to VI services and provision for pupils

4.7Looking to the future

5. Conclusion


Many thanks to the following people for their invaluable help in the development of the questionnaire: Rory Cobb and Julie Jennings of RNIB; Lindsey Rousseau of NatSIP; Paul Simpson of BATOD; Gillian Coles and Judy Sanderson of VIEW; and members of the West Midlands Regional Heads of Services group. Thanks also to Stuart Duncan of RNIB for his help with data entry and to Paul Bassett of StatsConsultancy for his advice on calculating pupil population estimates.

I would also like to thank all the managers and team leaders of VI/sensory services who somehow found the time to complete the survey questionnaire.


In the summer term of 2012 RNIB carried out a national questionnaire survey of Visual Impairment (VI) education advisory services for blind and partially sighted children in England and Wales.

This was the fifth RNIB survey of VI services, dating back to 1995. The aims of all the surveys have been to obtain:

  1. An estimate of the numbers of blind and partially sighted children who receive specialist educational support.
  2. Information about where pupils are being educated and the type of educational provision they receive.
  3. An overview of the policies and practices underpinning their educational provision.

An additional aim of the current survey was to follow up on the findings of two RNIB surveys that had been carried out in September 2010 and April 2011 to find out how local authority cuts were affecting VI services and the impact on provision for children and young people.



In May 2012 a questionnaire was sent as an e-mail attachment to individual heads of VI and sensory services in England and Wales with an explanatory covering letter. Respondents were given the option of saving the questionnaire as a Word document, and completing and returning it electronically or printing the questionnaire, completing it by hand and returning it by post.

The majority of respondents chose to send the questionnaire electronically. One respondent partially completed their questionnaire electronically. The remainder was then filled in via a telephone interview and the final version sent to the respondent for checking.


On receipt the questionnaires were anonymised prior to data entry. The quantitative data were entered onto an Excel spreadsheet which was then converted to SPSS for analysis. Open ended questions were recorded onto a Word document and coded (categorised) post hoc.

2.3 Population of pupils with visual impairment

An independent statistician calculated the population data and extrapolated population estimates (Bassett, 2012). As detailed in the findings section, not all participants were able to provide full details of all pupils in all categories. Two had only provided summary information on the overall total, or the total in each age group. For these two services therefore, the total numbers were split into the individual response categories. This was done by calculating the average percentage within category based on the responding local authorities (LAs), and to attribute the totals into individual categories using these percentages.

The second set of calculations extrapolated the figures to give an overall estimate of the population of children and young people with visual impairment supported by VI services in England. Rather than use a simple average of the figures for the responding LAs, the size of the population in each LA was taken into account. The average number in each category per population was calculated, and this value was applied to the non-responding LAs based on their population size. The local authority base population figures were taken fromtable 14a in DfE (2012a).

Separate calculations were performed for those children educated within the local authority and those outside the LA.

3.Findings for England

3.1Response rates

87 questionnaires were returned representing 66.4% of VI services in England.

Four services covered consortiums of LAs and a further two services were bought in by outside LAs. In total therefore, 67.3% (103) of local authorities in England were represented.

There was generally a good spread across local government regions. The highest response rates were from VI services in the Yorkshire and Humberside and South East regions representing 86.7% and 84.2% of LAs in those regions respectively. The poorest response rate was from London. Fifteen London LAs were represented, which is only 45.4% of all LAs in inner and outer London. This is the only region that had fewer than half of LAs represented in the survey.

Table 1: Local government regions represented

Region / Number of LAs represented / % of LAs in each region
Yorks and Humberside / 13 / 86.7
South East / 16 / 84.2
East Midlands / 7 / 77.8
North East / 9 / 75.0
West Midlands / 10 / 71.4
South West / 11 / 68.8
North West / 15 / 62.5
East of England / 7 / 58.3
London / 15 / 45.4

3.2Organisation and funding of VI services

3.2.1 Job title and role of respondent

Just over a quarter of respondents (26.4%) managed or took the professional lead in a sensory service. The same proportion of respondents had the role of VI service lead within a sensory or SEN service, ormanaged or took the role of team leader in a VI service.

Table 2: Job title and role of respondent (n=87)

No. / %
Head of sensory service/team manager/team leader / 23 / 26.4
VI service team leader within SEN or sensory service / 23 / 26.4
Head of VI service/VI service team leader/lead teacher / 23 / 26.4
Specialist/advisory teacher for visual impairment / 4 / 4.6
Manager/team leader/adviser for sensory and physical impairments / 3 / 3.4
Head of generic SEN service / 1 / 1.1
Other / 10 / 11.5
Total / 87 / 100%

Four respondents were VI teachers without a management role (in at least one case they were the sole QTVI in the service).

Three people had a management or senior advisory role within a physical and sensory service while one person described themselves as the head of a generic SEN service.

Other job titles included:

  • Team leader for low incidence needs
  • Service development manager within an integrated disability service
  • Senior educational psychologist and team manager for the sensory team within a generic SEN service
  • Headteacher in a virtual school providing sensory support (VI, HI and MSI)
  • A teacher boughtin to oversee VI caseloads
  • A teacher bought in from a national organisation
3.2.2 VI service management

Respondents were asked to select from a list of options the one that best described how their VI service was managed. All 87 respondents answered this question and a variety of management arrangements was found.

Table 3: How VI services are managed (n=87)

No. / %
Within local authority sensory service / 35 / 40.2
Within generic local authority SEN service / 25 / 28.7
Separate local authority VI service / 11 / 12.6
Centrally managed by an external (non-public sector) agency / 5 / 5.7
Other / 11 / 12.6
Total / 87 / 100%

Four in ten (40.2%) of respondents said that their VI service was managed within the sensory service and almost three in ten (28.7%) said that it was part of a generic SEN service although two services were at the time of the survey undergoing service reviews and were anticipating future changes. One of the two services was undergoing SEN Review and was expecting to be organised as a separate service in the new structure. The second VI service was currently managed within the generic SEN service but this was due to be changed in April 2013 with the School Funding Reforms, "….there is currently a service review".

In over one in ten LAs the VI service was managed as a stand alone service.

In five LAs the VI service was centrally managed by an external (non-public sector) agency. In two of the five cases this was through a service level agreement with the external provider.

Eleven respondents selected the 'other' option to describe their management arrangements:

  • 4 VI services had several levels of managementsuch as:
  • Within a sensory service (1)
  • Within a sensory service that was part of a generic SEN service (1)
  • Within an integrated disability service (1)
  • Part of the sensory needs team with VI and HI under separate managers who themselves were line managed by the head of inclusion and vulnerable children.
  • 3 services were managed by schools:
  • Managed by a school and funded by a schools forum
  • Within a sensory service that was centrally managed from a special school for pupils with VI
  • The service is part of a special school. The VI service manager is involved in discussions with the head teacher and LA officers regarding the needs of all pupils with sensory impairment within the LA.
  • 4 services describe other management arrangements:
  • 1 VI team was managed by the LA's principal educational psychologist
  • 1 service was managed by the head of inclusion in the LA
  • 1 was managed as part of the sensory and physical/medical teaching service
  • 1 remained within the LA but operated as a virtual school with its own governing body
3.2.3 VI service organisation

The majority (87.3%) of respondents said that their service was organised as a single VI service covering the whole of the LA. The structure of a further two services (which both currently operated under an 'other' arrangement described below) was due to change to a single VI service in September 2012.

Seven VI services supported pupils in more than one local authority. Of these, four represented a single service that covered a consortium of local or unitary authorities and a fifth covered two LAs under a joint arrangement between the two authorities. Two provided support to pupils in their own LA and were also bought in by one or more other LAs (although only one gave details of the LAs that bought in their service).

Table 4: How VI services are organised (n=87)

No. / %
Single service covering the whole of the LA / 76 / 87.3
Single service covering a consortium of, or representing a joint arrangement between local or unitary authorities / 5 / 5.7
Single service covering home LA and bought in by outside LAs / 2 / 2.3
Service divided geographically across the LA with a team in each location / 1 / 1.1
Other / 3 / 3.4
Total / 87 / 100%

One service was divided geographically across the LA with a team in each location.

Three respondents gave details of other ways in which their VI service was organised:

  • One LA currently had 2 services:
  • The VI service had responsibility for providing peripatetic support to school age pupils
  • The local authority ran a separate service with responsibility for early years, the primary and secondary resource bases, and mobility and habilitation
  • In one LA the VI service was part of a sensory service which was divided into 2 age groups:
  • Babies and children up to 7 years who were managed by an early years practitioner
  • Key Stages 2 - 5 under the management of a sensory practitioner.
  • One LA had a very small team of QTVIs on teachers pay and conditions with an inclusion consultant on a Soulbury contract to manage and oversee the caseload
3.2.4 VI service funding

Respondents were asked how their VI service was funded. For the majority (86.2%) of VI services that took part in the survey funding for specialist support for all pupils with VI was held centrally by the LA.

Table 5: How VI services are funded (n=87)

No. / %
Centrally funded by the LA for specialist support for all pupils with VI / 75 / 86.2
Centrally funded by the LA for high need (statemented) pupils and 'traded services' for all other pupils / 2 / 2.3
Delegated in full to a special or mainstream school with VI resource provision which then provides outreach to other schools / 2 / 2.3
Delegated in part to individual mainstream schools with VI resource provision to fund all support and resources for VI pupils within those schools / 2 / 2.3
Other / 6 / 6.9
Total / 87 / 100%

Two services were centrally funded by the LA for high need (statemented) pupils and had a 'traded services' arrangement for all other pupils. In one of the two services, central funding was retained by the LA for pupils with statements and also other groups defined as 'high need', these includedpre-school children.

In a further two LAs the VI service was delegated to a school with VI resource provision which then provided outreach via the peripatetic service to other schools in the area. As one of the two respondents explained:

"Delegated budget to a special school. The Service is part of the school and the Head delegates the whole budget to the Service Manager… service delivery is to all schools within the authority – special, mainstream, pre-school and FE. At present no charge is made to schools."

In two VI services funding was partially delegated to VI resourced schools to support pupils within those schools and the remainder retained centrally for the peripatetic service. One of the two services covered a consortium of LAs and this funding arrangement was complicated by the fact that not all of the LAs in the consortium had VI resourced schools.

Six respondents gave details of other types of funding arrangement:

  • In two of the six, central funding had been retained but this was combined with additional arrangements:
  • Centrally funded by LA for all pupils with VI plus a top up for statemented/high need pupils.
  • Centrally funded for all pupils with VI plus some services bought in using statement or school's devolved SEN funding (part-traded service).
  • Four respondents described individual funding arrangements:
  • Delegated to sensory consortium service including any need to purchase outside the service because of a shortage of skills in multi-sensory impairment (MSI) (1)
  • Specialist support workers for VI learners are commissioned by settings whilst the rest of the service (specialist teachers, touch typing & ICT and mobility officers are centrally funded (1)
  • Resource bases delegated to individual schools with a Service Level Agreement. School with primary resource based commissioned to manage the peripatetic service (1)
  • Funded through the Schools Forumuntil April 2013. All schools pay into a central fund (Delegated Schools Grant money) (1).
3.2.5 Funding for academies

Since 2010, as a consequence of central government policy, there has been a considerable increase in the number of schools in England converting to academy status. As funding for academies goes directly to schools as opposed to the local authority this policy has raised concerns about whether, in the future, funding for centralised local authority services such as VI and HI services will also be devolved to schools. In response to these concerns the government stated that as an interim measure, for academies that opened since 2009, LAs should continue to retain funding for specialist 'low incidence' SEN services in 2012/13.

We therefore asked VI services whether this had been the case in their LA that funding had been retained for support for non-statemented pupils with VI in academies in 2012/13. Nine out of ten VI services said that funding had been retained. Six services did not know whether funding had been retained and two said that this did not apply to them as their VI service was already operating as a fully traded service.

Table 6: Whether LA has retained funding for support for non-statemented pupils with VI in academies in 2012/13 (n=87)

No. / %
Yes, funding has been retained for 2012/13 / 79 / 90.8
Not applicable as VI service is fully delegated (fully traded service) / 2 / 2.3
Do not know / 6 / 6.9
Total / 87 / 100%

Three respondents volunteered further information about the funding for pupils with VI who attend schools that coverted to academies prior to 2009:

"One pre-2008 Academy ‘buys back’ our service."

"OldAcademies money delegated but they do buy back but this additional process takes time and energies [that are] not costed – really want to make it more expensive but do not want to discourage."

"Initially we were advised that for the old Academies we had to invoice the Academy [for VI service] support. For new Academies we have been able to support without charge."

Two people made reference to future arrangements:

"No specific arrangements have yet been put in place – input is needs led. A more formalSLA[Service Level Agreement] may be introduced next year."