Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Royal National Institute for the Blind (EY 36)


  Royal National Institute for the Blind welcomes the proposed inquiry into early years education, which we would expect to include such key elements as care, learning and development play, communication, therapy and health. The inquiry is timely, in view of recent initiatives, in particular the Sure Start programme, the national Childcare Strategy and the Early Learning goals published by Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

  RNIB is the largest organisation in the UK working with blind and partially sighted children and their families. As well as running three special schools that make provision for young visually impaired and multi-disabled visually impaired children, RNIB manages a wide range of services; including family support teams, a specialist care training service and regional teams of officers who work closely with specialist teachers, classroom assistants and others who support young visually impaired children in a range of mainstream and specialist settings.


  Recent research at RNIB indicates that there are around 22,000 children under the age of 16 in the UK whose visual impairment affects their learning, communication and daily activities. Many of these children also have other disabilities that can complicate their learning and exert considerable influence on their development (Clunies-Ross and Keil, 1999). This inquiry is therefore likely to include, in England alone, at least 2,000 young children who have a significant visual loss.


  RNIB considers a key issue to be that of ensuring that the special needs of children who are visually impaired are recognised early on and that appropriate intervention and properly supported provision is made at that time. It is all too easy to overlook the special needs of small numbers of children when it is remembered that only two children per 1,000 are likely to be visually impaired, thus placements will rarely encounter children who require specialist intervention and support for their visual impairment.

  A multi-agency approach is vital, involving health, education and social services and including both statutory and voluntary sector providers. In addition, training programmes for the wide range of professionals working in early years settings are essential, and so is appropriate support for parents who are key partners in the early years.


  RNIB takes the view that given the wide scope of this inquiry it is likely to have a more worthwhile and satisfactory outcome if a parallel inquiry were to run, looking at the same chronological age group but focusing on children who have special educational needs.

  There is much that RNIB would wish to contribute to such an inquiry, which would be in a better position to take full and detailed account of children with special needs than the proposed inquiry which is attempting to cover a lot of ground. A focus on early years and SEN would have much to commend it.

Royal National Institute for the Blind

January 2000

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