University of Edinburgh

Visual Impairment Scotland Research

The Characteristics of Visually Impaired Children With a Statement of Special Educational Needs

Blaikie AJ, Ravenscroft J, Buultjens M, Dutton GN, Visual Impairment Scotland Research Group

Royal College of Ophthalmologists Congress
Birmingham, May 2003


Children with visual impairment benefit from a specified long-term educational strategy with defined aims and objectives. This educational strategy should describe the services to be provided for that particular child and enable the child’s progress and requirements to be monitored and reviewed in a structured way. This is to ensure all children are given equal opportunity to develop their personality, skills and abilities to their fullest potential.

A legal statement of such an educational strategy is known as a ‘Record of Needs’ in Scotland. The means to provide such legal statements is currently being reviewed in Scotland (1).

The purpose of this study was to describe the current characteristics of visually impaired children with a Record of Needs in Scotland to inform the process of reform.


The inclusive nation-wide childhood visual impairment database of Visual Impairment Scotland (2) was analysed for Records of Needs status and the relationship with educational placement, visual function, additional disabilities, anatomical site of impairment and blind and partial sight registration status.


Record of Needs Status

333 children with ‘significant visual impairment’ (visual acuity worse than 6/18 and/or any visual field loss and/or cognitive visual dysfunction) were notified to VIS between March 21 2001 and September 21 2002. There was completed educational information available on 224 children. Of these children 46% (103) had a Record of Needs (RoN).

Educational Placement

As expected nearly all children (97%) in Special Schools had a Record of Needs in place.


However over half the children (54%) in mainstream primary and secondary were NOT subject to a Record of Needs. Less than 1 in 10 (5/51) preschool children held a Record of Needs. This is despite it being well recognised that early coordinated educational intervention leads to a positive long-term developmental and educational outcome (3).

Visual Function Group

VIS employs a modified version of the NORDSYN visual function classification system(4) (Table 1).


There were children with a Record of Needs in all visual function groups. There was a clear trend for a greater percentage of children to have a Record of Needs in the visual function groups with poorer vision (Figure 2).


Anatomical Site and Additional Disabilities

A similar number of children with brain (44%) as the primary anatomical site of impairment had a Record of Needs compared to those with impairment due to the eye or optic nerve (47%).


Of the children with an additional disability 54% had a Record of Needs compared to 37% of those with no additional disability. Children with visual impairment and an additional disability are therefore more likely to have Record in Place than those with no additional disability.

Blind & Partial Sight Registration

Of the 224 children with educational information available 141 were registered blind or partially sighted. Of these children 43% (80/141) do not have a Record of Needs in place. It is surprising that so many children in full time education in Scotland, who are so visually impaired as to be registered blind or partially sighted, are still not subject to a legal statement of special educational needs.


Most children in special schools, with additional disabilities and no perception of light visual acuity have a Record of Needs. However this study has identified key groups of children where there may be inequitable special educational provision as legal statements of needs have not been described in many children.

Children with Severe Vision Loss

Although there is a clear trend for children with poorer visual function to have a Record of Needs there are still many children (43%) with severe visual loss (NORDSYN Group B and C) who do not have a legal statement of needs. Over two fifths (43%) of children deemed to be so visually impaired as to be registered blind or partially sighted by their attending ophthalmologist do not have a Record of Needs.

Children in Mainstream Education

Almost half (46%) of children in mainstream education do not have a legal statement of educational needs.

Preschool Children

In preschool children only 10% (5/51) have a Record despite. This is despite it being well recognised that early coordinated educational intervention can lead to positive developmental, educational and visual outcomes.

It is hoped that the proposed Scottish legislation(1) on 'Additional Support for Learning' will take into account the findings of this study and ensure improved legal protection under the new act for children with visual impairment.



2. Website Defunct

3. Sonksen PM, Petrie A, Drew KJ. Promotion of visual development of severely visually impaired babies: evaluation of a developmentally based programme. Dev Med Child Neurol 1991 Apr;33(4):320-35

4. Website defunct see NORDSYN Article

John Ravenscroft
VI Scotland, SSC