Sensory, Physical and Medical – Visual Impairment (VI)

Definition of the need

A child or young person (CYP) is considered to have a visual impairment if they have an eye condition that cannot be fully corrected by glasses.  The term visual impairment is used to cover a range of conditions and a range of levels of vision.  They cover the whole ability range and are very low incidence. 

For educational purposes, CYP are regarded as having visual impairment if their vision is not fully correctable and interferes with their learning.  They will have or be in the process of being diagnosed with an eye condition by ophthalmology. They will need adaptations to their environment, learning materials, specialist resources and/or particular teaching strategies in order to access the early years and school curriculum.   A number of CYP with a visual impairment also have an additional disability or learning difficulty.

How to identify need

The following may indicate concern about the visual functioning of a child or young person:

They might be squinting when viewing the board or displays or they might be struggling to see text on worksheets, books or seeing the screen in IT lessons

  • Hazy, double or blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Swollen, red eyes
  • Sudden pain in eyes
  • Unusual clumsiness
  • Missing objects by under- or over-reaching
  • Identifying colours is problematic
  • Hesitantly walking
  • Accidently spilling or pouring drinks and/or food
  • Problems with writing
  • Mentioning how light is inadequate
  • Reading books less often at school and home

The list above is not exhaustive and there might be many other signs and indications that a child’s vision has changed.

In the first instance, ask parents to take the child to a high street Optometrist/Optician for an eye check.  If the visual difficulty is caused by a refractive error then glasses will be prescribed to bring the vision up to normal levels.  If there are any other underlying causes for the vision loss, the child will be referred to an Ophthalmologist at the hospital Eye Clinic for full assessment. 

Following a diagnosis, the hospital, school, parent or setting can then refer to Inclusive Support Service for advice and support from a Qualified Teacher of Visually Impaired.  If a child or young person has normal vision in one eye then they will not meet the criteria for intervention from The Vision Team. 

How to support in schools and settings

Every child or young person with a visual impairment has a very unique, individual set of needs. Support would be individual and specific.

However, listed below are a few good practise prompts to ensure that you can consider and liaise with the QTVI to help to ensure that you are a Vision Friendly School. Please consider the following:

The Physical Environment

  • Lighting – Does the lighting in the school meet the needs of all young people?
  • Signage – Do all young people have access to curricular, environmental and social information?
  • Colour – Are colour, tone and contrast being used effectively in school?
  • Physical Access – Is the school able to provide young people with appropriate independent access?
  • Fixtures and fittings – Does the school have visually friendly fixtures and fittings?

An Inclusive Curriculum

  • Classroom management – Think Access - appropriate seating, clear and clutter free resources, contrast, easy to locate, spacing of curriculum materials, size and style of curriculum materials
  • Teaching Strategies – follow advice from The Vision Team
  • Planning – share planning with key staff
  • Recording – handwriting/ICT/speech/ Braille
  • Speed of work
  • ICT Throughout the curriculum – making it accessible – adapted settings, specialist programmes, specialist equipment, accessing interactive whiteboards,
  • Role of support staff
  • Curriculum areas and activities – each will throw up their own issues – follow curriculum specific guidance from the QTVI 

The Specialist (additional) Curriculum following advice and support from the QTVI

  • Orientation and mobility
  • Daily Living Skills
  • Habilitation
  • Independent Living
  • Development of visual skills/low vision training/use of low vision devices
  • Listening skills
  • Use of specialist curriculum
  • ICT

The Social Curriculum

  • Enhancing self esteem
  • Facilitating friendships
  • Communicating meaning
  • Break/lunch/change of lessons
  • Extra-curricular activities

The Transition Process

  • A well planned transition – advice from QTVI


Additional support

Once the child or young person has been screened and diagnosed for a visual impairment, they will need support to ensure they can access the curriculum and learn within the classroom.

When a child needs support, a referral, with parental consent, should be made to the Inclusive Education Service (IES) – Sensory, Physical & Medical Team (Vison). Children will be assessed against an adapted NATSIP Criteria / Guidance for Children with Vision Impairment; all children are entitled to an initial assessment, but on-going work will be carried out with children who meet the criteria for involvement.  As a general guide the children on caseload have vision which is at best 6/18 (sees at 6 metres what a fully sighted person would see at 18 metres) however there are anomalies such as CYP with CVI, degenerative or fluctuating conditions.

Request for Involvement form can be found on the CYPS website at on the IES landing page.  The guidance for a RFI is on page 22 on the appendix I: SPA Frequently Asked Questions (in the SEND: Inclusive Education Service Core and Extended Offer). 


How can the visually impaired team help support the child and young person in your school or setting?

In NYCC as part of the Inclusive Education Service, we have a small team of specialists who are Qualified Teachers of the Visually Impaired (QTVI).  These teachers are qualified to support children who have a diagnosis of a vision loss who are blind or partially sighted.  The Vision Support Team is part of the Sensory Physical & Medical Service.

There are three general categories used to describe vision and a Qualified Teacher of Visually Impaired (QTVI) would usually be involved with a CYP if they are in the first 2 of these categories:

  1. Educationally blind/Severely Sight impaired – no light perception to 3/60
  2. Partially sighted/Sight Impaired – 3/60 to 6/18
  3. Within normal range – 6/18 to 6/6

For educational purposes visual impairment is classified into 4 categories of vision loss – mild, moderate, severe and profound.  These take into account visual acuity (distance vision) and near vision based on font size.  For further information on the description of the Categories of Vision Loss click here

If an appropriate referral is made to a QTVI, an assessment of that child will be made.  This will look at not only the level of vision loss, but also any additional factors eg. a CYP may have a mild reduction in visual acuity but be functioning within a different visual category due to an additional ophthalmic condition.

Depending on the cognitive function and eye condition of the child tactile/audio/large print resources may be required.

The Vision Support Team aims to:

  • Provide information, advice, support, direct teaching, and training to children with visual impairment and their parents across their homes, early years settings, mainstream and special schools.
  • Work in partnership with other teams within the Inclusive Education, to provide specialist advice for children with a visual impairment who have additional SEND
  • Ensure that the individual needs of children with vision impairment are met from the point of diagnosis, and following assessment, that individual programmes of work and relevant advice will enable the children to achieve their full potential.

Support offered to CYP is offered in line with the NYCC BAND Guidance/Criteria for involvement which outlines levels of need.  This  can include:

  • Providing teaching and support for appropriate elements of the additional specialist VI curriculum
  • Training to teaching staff and teaching assistants, enabling them to feel confident in supporting the needs of pupils with vision impairment
  • Specific advice to schools regarding transitions, intervention and support, as well as access arrangements for examination
  • Contribution to Education Health and Care Plan assessments, and Annual Reviews
  • Liaison with other agencies i.e. Paediatricians, Ophthalmologists and other eye care professionals, Social Care, and a wide range of voluntary and charitable organisations
  • Environmental audits, advice on classroom environments, adaptations and specialist resources
  • Direct teaching of habilitation and mobility skills, life skills, and independence
  • Functional vision and technology assessments, to ensure advice for access to provision is relevant to individual's need
  • Loan of specialist VI equipment to individual pupils, and schools

National websites

The following websites can be helpful for teaching staff and parents, which provide a range of information and resources to support the child and young person.

Natsip – National Sensory Impairment Partnership has many free resources to assist with visual impairment

After registering, there are links on the home page for SENCO’s, teachers, TAs working with pupils with Visual impairment. Natsip has created The Sensory Learning Hub to provide a centrally trusted resource for all things related to sensory impairment.

The RNIB – Teaching and learning section provides many useful documents covering a range of topics including the Early Years, National Curriculum and emotional support

The Scottish Sensory Centre has useful information about visual impairment and eye conditions:-

RNIB Online Shop for most resources to help children and young people with visual impairment:-


Downloadable electronic books:-


Libraries for large print and Braille Books:-


Specialist Tactile Books:-


Audio Books:-


Equipment: Sloping work boards:-

Posturite - £50

IKEA - £4

If you believe that there is information that should be amended or added to this webpage, please contact the Inclusive Education Service.


Page last updated: May 2019