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Visual Impairment

Volume 449: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills (1) what support is provided by his Department for partially-sighted and blind pupils in (a) primary, (b) secondary, (c) further and (d) higher education; (86542)

(2) how much funding has been allocated by his Department for the provision of appropriate literature and equipment for partially-sighted and blind students in (a) primary, (b) secondary, (c) further and (d) higher education in (i) Somerset and (ii) England in each year since 1997.

The special educational needs (SEN) code of practice provides advice to local authorities and schools on their statutory duties to identify, assess and make provision for children who have special educational needs, including children who are blind or partially sighted. The code sets out a graduated approach to providing support. Many children who are blind or partially sighted will have statements of SEN. All statements are reviewed at least annually. The purpose of the review is to consider a child’s progress, to ensure they are achieving desired outcomes and, if necessary, to amend their statements to reflect newly identified needs and provision.

Children with SEN, including those who are blind or partially sighted, benefited from the substantial increase of £1,170 in the funding per pupil from £2,940 in 1997-98 to £4,110 per pupil in 2005-06 (a rise of nearly 40 per cent.) and from the increase in local authorities’ budgeted expenditure on the education of children with SEN from £2.8 billion in 2001-02 to £4.5 billion in 2006-07. £300 million was also made available from 2003-04 through the schools access initiative to improve access to mainstream schools for disabled pupils. Recently a further £100 million per annum has been announced for both 2006-07 and 2007-08. Funds can be used for improving physical access, including adaptations for sensory disability such as improved colour schemes; access to the curriculum; access to written information in alternative formats. This encompasses information, communication technology equipment (both hardware and software).

Decisions about the support provided for children in Somerset are a matter for the local authority, taking into account its statutory duties.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) has a responsibility under the Learning and Skills Act to support young people and adults with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, including learners with visual impairments. Overall, in 2004/05 the LSC supported more than 640,000 learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities which accounted for nearly £1.5 billion.

Disabled students’ allowances (DSAs) are available to help students in higher education with the extra costs they may incur on their course as a direct result of a disability (or specific learning difficulty).

DSAs are paid in addition to the standard student support package; they are not means-tested and do not have to be repaid.

In academic year 2004/05 (the latest for which figures are available) 64,2001 DSAs were awarded in England and Wales totalling £74.1 million. In addition there were over 2,600 OU students with DSAs worth around £3.5 million.

1 The total number of students in receipt of DSAs involves an element of double-counting since a student can have more than one allowance.