Reassurances over support for young people with vision impairment in Northumberland

Northumberland County Council has said it hasn’t cut support for youngsters with vision impairment, after concerns were raised by a charity for the blind.

Thursday, 31st October 2019, 4:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 31st October 2019, 6:55 pm
County Hall, Morpeth Picture by Jane Coltman

Last week, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) warned that one in three young people with vision impairment are being failed by underfunded local authorities across the North East, according to its latest research.

The report, Left out of Learning, reveals that two-thirds (67 per cent) of councils in the region have cut or frozen funding for specialist education services over the last two years. Just one North East council has kept its funding in line with inflation.

Over the same time, more than a third (38 per cent) of councils have made a reduction in qualified teachers of vision impairment (QTVI), who are central to making mainstream education accessible for visually-impaired children and young people.

The findings, which come from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, suggest that Northumberland’s funding reduced by ‘less than 20%’ between 2017-18 and 2019-20.

In addition, they show that the authority’s QTVI workforce reduced by 0.4 full-time equivalents over the same period.

However, the county council has offered assurances that it has not cut funding, saying that its response to the FOI ‘didn’t properly represent the situation’ and adding that the reduction in QTVIs relates to a vacant post and is not permanent.

A spokeswoman said: “The council is fully committed to providing a high-quality visually-impaired sensory support service for children and young people.

“There has been no cut in the budget for this service at all, with the only temporary budget change being a part-time vacancy in the team. Each learner is receiving the nationally recognised appropriate level of support as other team members provide cover and one member of staff is currently training to teach children with visual impairments.

“Northumberland is very proud of the quality of its service for children with sensory impairments, which was recognised by Ofsted as good and effective during the local area SEND inspection.

“We are not complacent, however, and our social care team is currently involved in reviewing sensory support services. This is to ensure that we can assess the needs of children and young people who have a visual and multi-sensory impairment and develop appropriate services to meet these needs.”

Reflecting on the regional picture, Lewis Winton, RNIB campaigns officer for the North East, said: “Our research has revealed a shocking lack of resource for local authorities to deliver this crucial provision.

“Despite an increasing number of children and young people requiring and accessing specialist support in the last few years, funding has been cut, QTVI roles have been lost and case-loads have increased – putting remaining services under enormous strain.

“With more than £14 billion being promised for primary and secondary education between now and 2023, we are urging the Government to act now and correct this funding gap to ensure every child with vision impairment is able to fulfil their potential.”